Summit County leaders supportive of moving forward with Silverthorne child care center despite cost estimates doubling

County commissioners interested in holding a joint work session with Silverthorne Town Council to brainstorm additional funding opportunities

Summit County Preschool, pictured Jan. 8, is one of the few preschools in Summit County offering early childhood education. Currently, the town of Silverthorne and Summit County are working together to bring an early childhood facility to the north end of the county, but the increase in construction costs could be a barrier to the project.
Tripp Fay/For the Summit Daily News

A proposed Silverthorne child care center has been in the works since 2019, but since the initial budget was set, the cost of construction has more than doubled.

Earlier this month, the Silverthorne Town Council expressed concern that the rising costs could be a barrier to completing the facility, which is a much-needed resource as access to child care remains limited in Summit County. Originally, the project was estimated to cost $4 million, of which the county would contribute $3 million and the town $1 million.

The latest budget for the project estimates costs now total upward of $8.5 million.

During a Summit Board of County Commissioners work session meeting Tuesday, Jan. 18, Summit County Manager Scott Vargo said the project’s design work was nearing completion but that funding to make up for the rise in cost was still lacking.

Vargo said his team has not been able to identify any substantial fundraising opportunities. He also said the town was reluctant to contribute a significant portion of funding to the project.

“(The town of Silverthorne) has not indicated any significant opportunity to provide additional capital into the project,” Vargo said. “A small amount was at one point thrown out, but from my conversations with the manager in Silverthorne, that number is maybe in the $150,000 to $200,000 range and … that is not a formal proposal or a formal option at this point.”

Vargo said the board could choose to stall the project in hopes that construction costs would go down or it could choose to move the project forward despite the gap in funding.

Potential options to make up the difference include setting aside future Strong Future Fund tax money to the project, which could exhaust all funds for early childhood education for future years or take funding away from other measures, such as access to behavioral health services, wildfire mitigation, recycling efforts and more.

Another approach is to pull funding from the county’s general operating fund, but doing so would put the county in a difficult position in future years as it tries to balance its expenses.

Summit County Commissioner Elisabeth Lawrence said she was in favor of moving the project forward and that not doing so would break a promise to the community.

“It’s impossible to calculate what we’re losing right now by not having more available child care, but it certainly is having an economic impact in our community by folks not being able to go to work and not being able to get their kids in child care,” Lawrence said.

Summit County Commissioner Josh Blanchard was also supportive of moving the project forward and exploring state and federal opportunities that could support the cost of construction.

Summit County Commissioner Tamara Pogue agreed with the other two commissioners but said she was not comfortable with any of the options, especially those that would take funding away from other needed community resources.

She suggested the county commissioners have a joint work session with Silverthorne Town Council to brainstorm solutions. In addition, she expressed interest in learning more about the general fund to get a better understanding of how taking capital would impact the county’s expenses moving forward.

Lawrence said she was supportive of these measures but that she didn’t want to delay the project any longer.

“It’s just so far out from the original intention of getting this built, plus we cannot sustain not having any more child care,” Lawrence said. “This center has 12 infants, which is larger than a lot of places. Currently, there are 120 unique individual infants under 1 year old that are on our waitlist. So you can see 12 out of 120 just barely scratches the surface of what the demand is out there.”

Lawrence said she’d also like to make it clear that there needs to be an additional contribution from the town of Silverthorne but that these details could get worked out in a joint work session.

Lucinda Burns, executive director of Early Childhood Options, said this new center is intended to serve about 65 children between the ages of 6 weeks and 6 years.

Vargo was given the go-ahead to continue to move the project forward.

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