Over 600 children on Summit County’s waitlist for child care

Community leaders hustle to bring more options online as families struggle

Summit County Preschool is pictured Jan. 8.
Tripp Fay/For the Summit Daily News

Though housing — or the lack thereof — has become a hot topic in Summit County, there’s one other issue that’s a major point of contention for many long-term families living in the county: child care.

According to Catherine Schaaf, program director at Early Childhood Options, there are currently 620 children on the waitlist for a spot at one of Summit County’s 21 child care centers. This includes “the big five,” which encompass Summit County Preschool, Lake Dillon Preschool, Timberline Learning Center, Carriage House and Little Red Schoolhouse. The others are the county’s three smaller sites, including Breckenridge Montessori, Open Arms Preschool and Rocky Mountain Montessori Academy. The remaining 13 centers are licensed in-home care facilities. Though there are other facilities in the county too, Schaaf said her team is trying to wrangle just how many.

Of the kids on the waitlist, infants make up one of the highest proportions. Schaaf noted that all of the kids on the waitlist have a Summit County zip code, and that, on average, it takes about a year or two before a spot opens up. Currently, there are about 604 children enrolled in early child care.

Schaaf said that in her role, she gets calls from families all the time who struggle with going back to work because of the lack of care. In some cases, she said some families “buddy up” together to switch off care but that many struggle to make it work long-term.

“These families are our firefighters, our nurses, our teachers, our housekeepers — they are the heartbeat of our community, and with COVID and then trying to raise a family, trying to make it work, I have had multiple calls saying ‘I just don’t know if we’re going to make it here,'” Schaaf said.

This is a well-known problem to community leaders across the county, especially Summit County Commissioner Elisabeth Lawrence. In the last Summit Board of County Commissioners’ work session meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 22, she told leaders at the town of Breckenridge that the county is interested in partnering with them on a future facility should they identify such a project. Breckenridge Town Council Member Kelly Owens said the town was interested in such a project and was in the process of looking at various parcels and existing buildings.

Lawrence was also vocal at a joint town of Silverthorne and Summit Board of County Commissioners meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 23. The two entities are interested in building a new child care center near the town’s Smith Ranch development but skyrocketing construction costs — along with the virus — have stalled the project.

Even though the cost of the project has more than doubled, Lawrence was a proponent for moving forward and doing so quickly. This new center could open up around 60 spots and while a drop in the bucket compared to the need, Lawrence said it’s still worth pursuing.

“If we build this, we still have a huge need but that should not detract us, we should not bury our head in the sand,” she said at the meeting. “This is currently the biggest economic driver of our community, or two things — housing and child care — and if we don’t have those, then we’re not going to effectively run our businesses.”

During the meeting, the cost of the project — which was originally budgeted for $4 million and has since risen closer to $8.5 million — was a point of contention for leaders who all decided that exploring modular buildings could be a good solution. A few leaders were planning to tour a new temporary modular facility in Vail to see if something similar could be an option. Afterward, the teams plan to reconvene to decide if they should move forward.

Two other projects that have gotten support from the county are expanding the Lake Dillon Preschool and placing a new child care facility near Keystone’s Wintergreen affordable housing development. Both are in preliminary stages and don’t have further details.

One new, smaller center that could be up and running by this fall is Zuma Playhouse. Launched by Montezuma resident Ashton Kent, the licensed in-home facility will be based on Montessori principles.

Kent said she decided to open the new facility when she had her son in October.

“He’s been my inspiration for everything,” Kent said. “I want to spend my days hanging out with him, cultivating him, and I thought a great way to do that would be to have (watch) children. I love kids and that’s something I would love to be doing on a day-to-day basis.”

Kent is currently going through the process of getting her new business licensed and the facility — which will be run from her basement — operating. Details such as pricing aren’t yet finalized but she plans to operate from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. She also said she bought a vehicle for the business so that she can offer drop-off and pickup in Keystone to make it easier for parents to get to and from work.

Because it’s just her running the operation, she’ll be quite limited in how many children she can accept. She can only hold five children, in addition to providing care for her son. That includes one child under 18 months and four between the ages of 2 and 5 years old.

Though she’s still months away from opening her doors, Kent said she’s already garnered some interest from community members and that slowly, she’ll start building a waitlist. The children she accepts will be on a first-come, first-serve basis. Eventually she’ll have a website and Facebook page with more information but for now, those interested can email her at for more information.

Though centers like these make a small dent in the county’s waitlist, both Lawrence and Schaaf said they’re much needed in the community. Schaaf estimated that if more centers like these could crop up and if leaders could place around 200 children from the list, then the county would move out of it’s crisis-level of care.

Along with housing, Summit County has a severe lack of child care. There are currently about 604 children enrolled in early child care with about 620 waiting for an open spot.
Jenna deJong/Summit Daily News

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