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Kinderhut can catch its breath

BOB BERWYN and RYAN SLABAUGHsummit daily news
Summit Daily/Kristin Skvorc
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BRECKENRIDGE – Phew. The Kinderhut childcare center at Peak 9 will get a little breathing room after gaining a one-year reprieve from Vail Resorts, which decided to take over the commercial leases in the Beaver Run Resort and Conference Center.Wednesday’s decision means that Kinderhut and Vail Resorts – who stood on opposite sides of the fence the past two weeks during a heated community discussion about the resort’s commitment to childcare – will now be under a tenant/landlord relationship. And, Kinderhut will still have to spend the next year finding a different location for its operation.”Between the town and the resort, it really is a one-plus-one equals five relationship,” said Roger McCarthy, co-president of Vail Resorts’ mountain division. “I think that’s why the relationship has to be symbiotic, and focused on the whole.” Mayor Ernie Blake, who has met frequently with McCarthy since the issue surfaced, said a childcare shortage problem is a community problem, not a ski-area problem. The solution should not completely rest with the corporation, Blake said.

“(Wednesday’s decision) really is a fix for what could have become a real problem, or a crisis as perceived by some folks,” Blake said. “I appreciate the council’s willingness to take a fair amount of heat to buy a little time and figure out how to do it. We’ve been taken off the hook with Roger’s work.”Kinderhut co-owner Charles Merritt said the outcome was better than he could have hoped. “The people in the community really rallied, and we want to thank them in the biggest way possible,” Merritt said.Kinderhut was notified in late January that Beaver Run Development would be turning to Vail Resorts to take over retail and commercial operations at the Beaver Run base area at the end of the season. The business move also affected several other locally owned businesses at Beaver Run.The decision triggered an intense emotional reaction among locals. Several parents organized a letter-writing campaign, a petition drive and started up a “Save Kinderhut” website. They also turned out en masse for a town council meeting last week to offer scathing comments on Vail Resorts’ role in the decision, and to highlight the importance of childcare issues in the community.

Kinderhut not only provides service to Beaver Run guests, but has become an important part of the local childcare equation, offering affordable drop-in rates and a family-type environment used by hundreds of local families during the 14 years of its existence.”This was a big deal. I think it might have swayed a couple of people on council who might not otherwise have been as sympathetic to the Kinderhut plight,” said Councilmember Eric Mamula, referring to the packed room at last week’s council session.Mamula said the council was set to discuss the issue again at next week’s meeting, with several council members wanting to draft a stern letter of rebuke to Vail Resorts.”I’m glad they acted without that,” Mamula said, giving McCarthy credit for responding to community concerns.The decision by Vail Resorts to sublet the Kinderhut space to Merritt and his partner, Craig Root, for one year gives the duo a chance to plan for an orderly transition, and time for the community to address wider childcare issues, Mamula said.

The move may also defuse the childcare issue as a potentially explosive election issue in the Breckenridge Town Council race, Mamula said. Under the deal, Merritt said he even hopes to increase the number of allotted spaces for Kinderhut on the mountain this spring. Currently, the operation is only allowed to have five youngsters on the slopes at one time.According to Merrit, the cap is in place because Breckenridge Ski Area (with about 1.4 million annual skier visits) sees Kinderhut as being in direct competition for the same services offered by the ski resort. Bumping that number up this spring would enable Kinderhut to offer its service to more locals during spring break, when local families are stretched for childcare options, Merritt explained.McCarthy said that, because of the relationship change, he would need to review insurance issues before making any decision on increasing Kinderhut’s cap.Bob Berwyn can be reached at (970) 331-5996, or at bberwyn@summitdaily.com.


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