Summit County leaders hope new child care center will provide relief as hundreds of families wait for a slot
Costing roughly $8.5 million, the center is slated to open in Silverthorne in early fall
More than 600 children are currently on a waitlist for child care, according to Catherine Schaaf, program director for the social services organization Early Childhood Options, which makes referrals for families seeking child care in the area. It’s a need that “far exceeds what we have currently” for services in the county, she said.
Summit County Commissioner Elisabeth Lawrence said she’s hoping the new Silverthorne facility, which is being built adjacent to the town’s Smith Ranch neighborhood, will fill a critical void for the county’s northern area.
“Opening this new center in Silverthorne is us taking a big step to whittling away that waitlist,” Lawrence said. “It’s not only an economic driver because it allows parents to go to work … but investing in early learning is one of the best investments any community can make.”
Estimated to have cost roughly $8.5 million, the center is slated to open in August or September of this year, according to Lawrence. At about 8,800-square-feet, it will likely be able to support about 70 children a day, she said.
That figure would make a sizable dent in the county’s demand for child care, Lawrence said, and would materialize the yearslong effort of a project that has been stymied by rising costs and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Following the passage of a property tax increase in 2018, county officials planned to use some of those new funds for what would become the Silverthorne child care center. But at the time, only about $4.5 million was budgeted for the project.
“When we had plans to start this center, the price tag was a lot lower,” Lawrence said.
A flurry of funding from other stakeholders, such as Silverthorne’s town government, which also provided the land, made it possible for the county to meet the center’s growing budget needs as inflation sent costs skyrocketing.
According to Silverthorne Town Manager Ryan Hyland, the town provided $1 million in funding for the project. He said by locating the center near Smith Ranch — an income-based workforce housing development — it will be a boon to working families and “gives people that security that this is a place they can stay.”
Aid also came from the federal level after U.S. Rep. Joe Neuguse, whose district includes Summit County, secured $750,000 in funding for the center in the $1.7 trillion government funding bill passed by Congress last month.
“It became clear to us that this was a priority for the community and one we ought to fight for at the federal level,” Neguse said. “There is a substantial unmet need, and you can imagine the pressures and constraints that puts on working families who are trying to make ends meet.”
The Silverthorne facility is slated to become the sixth large-scale center for the county, which has just over a dozen smaller centers, many of which are in-home facilities. But along with supply for services, costs for child care can also be a burden on families.
According to Schaaf, the cost for infant to toddler care — which represents children as young as 6 weeks to 2 years old — can be $90 a day. That’s usually more than $2,000 each month for full-time working families who need weekly care, Schaaf said.
For preschool, which encompasses children usually around the ages of 3 and 4, the cost can be about $1,500 a month.
“Swallowing a $1,500 to $2,000 bill with the cost of living, from housing to groceries to car insurance, is a really hard pill to swallow,” Schaaf said.
The county has developed programs to help with those costs beginning in 2007 with a subsidy program for lower- and middle-income residents in the town of Breckenridge to help pay for preschool. That program has since expanded to the entire county, with eligible families of 3- and 4-year-olds able to bring their child care bills down to about $800 each month, according to Schaaf.
But that can still be expensive for some families, Schaaf said. In those instances, a parent may stay home for some of the week to save on child care costs.
“Then that means a parent might have to forgo wages one day a week,” Schaaf said, adding that for working families “moving the needle can be really hard” when it comes to their income.
Lawrence, the county commissioner, said she knows this feeling all too well. Nearly two decades ago, Lawrence said she was paying more than half of her income towards child care as a single, working parent. When she became a recipient of Breckenridge’s subsidy program, Lawrence said it made a world of difference.
“I remember what it was like living here” and struggling to pay for child care, Lawrence said. “It’s really difficult to find a spot and go to work if you don’t have child care.”
Lawrence said the rates have not yet been set for the Silverthorne location and said the county is waiting to see how the state’s universal preschool program this year will impact rates. But even as that project moves towards completion, more investments in child care in the county will likely be needed in the future, Lawrence said.
“We know that we have that waitlist, and we need to help,” she said.
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