Local child care picks up the slack as Wintergreen awaits contractor | SummitDaily.com

Local child care picks up the slack as Wintergreen awaits contractor

Cooper, a toddler that Ash Kent from Zuma Playhouse cares for, plays with his duster toy in front of the toddler-sized sink on Wednesday, July 27, 2022. The mini sink is part of the Montessori care model Kent offers at her child care facility in Montezuma.
Eiliana Wright/Summit Daily News

Summit County Government has begun the process of starting construction on a child care facility at Wintergreen. 

The center is long awaited since the plan for the facility predates the Village at Wintergreen. It will be built on property that was designated for a child care facility back when Keystone Resort first created their planned unit development document.

This facility will be built to the right of Ralson Road, one of the main entrances of Village at Wintergreen. A parking lot will be built off of the road, with an estimated 5,000-square-foot day care facility at the end. 

Lucinda Burns, the Executive Director of Early Childhood Options, said she’s heard about a potential child care facility in the Wintergreen location off and on for the past 10 years, so she’s excited about the search for a contractor. 

“We’re looking at it now because, obviously, the number of childcare slots that are available are well below the demand within the county,” Summit County Manager Scott Vargo said. 

There are still 600 children on the child care waitlist as of July, said Burns. 

However, the facility would likely not open until 2024 at the earliest, Vargo said. It will be funded through grants and money reallocated from the Smith Ranch child care building in Silverthorne as the county applies for more federal dollars to fund that project.  

Vargo predicted the facility will offer care for up to 40 to 50 infant- to preschool-aged children, and it will staff between 12 to 20 employees. However, Vargo recognized two potential problems. 

First, the facility will barely make a dent in the waitlist of children needing care. Second, it will be very difficult to completely staff the facility. 

To mitigate access and staffing, Vargo reported the county will allocate tax subsidies for the center to both alleviate cost of child care and also to provide a liveable wage for staff. 

Staffing child care centers has been an issue in Summit County. Even though child care facilities are open, Burns said a few are not operating at full capacity due to a scarcity of staff. This is caused by lack of salary and benefits, as well as low numbers of people who are qualified to provide child care. 

Vargo called the subsidy program for Wintergreen a child care tuition assistance program, similar to a program Breckenridge utilizes. This new program is for infants to 3-year-olds, similar to the existing program Vargo said already exists for children ages 3 to 4 years old.  

“Between those two programs and those two funding mechanisms, we would hopefully be able to make some good impacts on the financial viability of existing centers, as well as new ones coming,” Vargo said. 

Vargo said it is still too early to estimate how much Wintergreen child care would cost per family. 

“We recognize that there’s a lack of slots available in the community, so we’re going to try and do whatever we can to fill some of that gap,” Vargo said. 

To help close that gap, one local child care recently opened its doors to families. 

Zuma Playhouse has been set to open since the beginning of 2022. Ash Kent, the owner and operator of Zuma Playhouse in Montezuma, currently cares for two children both under the age of 2, along with her son, Roric. 

When Burns first came to the county, there were between 40 to 50 licensed home-run child care centers. 

Those numbers have now been reduced to a mere 15 home-run facilities, including Zuma Playhouse. Burns said this is attributed to Summit County’s housing crisis. It’s harder for families to secure a property where they have enough space indoors and outdoors to host a child care center. 

Kent’s child care center offers space for a maximum of eight children, though she only offers care for up to five in accordance with her license. There is also an outdoor playground, reading room and a child-sized plumbing system for children to practice potty training and hand washing. 

Her daily rate for a full-time toddler, 19 to 60 months old, is $80 daily and a school-aged child, 60 to 144 months old, is $75 daily. Her facility is located in Montezuma, where she offers care from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. She also offers a pick up and drop off service.

She obtained a license through the state, and she also took classes to become a Montessori-trained child care provider. This means activities are sensory-focused, responsibility driven and the children are encouraged to problem solve, she said. 

For example, in the middle of Kent’s daycare is a small table with toddler-sized chairs that Kent eats at with the children she cares for. During meals, children are encouraged to use utensils and serve themselves. 

Right now, Kent has available spots but can only take up to five children with an added restriction on how many per age she can accept at a time. 

Burns said facilities like Kent’s can be extremely helpful in lessening the child care issue Summit County has. 

“Yes, it’s only five children at a time. but that’s five children that did not have child care before. And so now those five families will be able to go to work and have a successful family life, and — hopefully — stay here in Summit County,” Burns said.

For more information, visit Zuma Playhouse‘s website by searching for it on Google.

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