Summit County officials hope the new child care center will provide relief while hundreds of families wait for places

A camper uses free time to create art at Breckenridge Mountain Camp on February 17, 2022 in Breckenridge. As demand for childcare remains high, local officials are hoping a new facility in the town of Silverthorne will help meet the need.
John Hanson/For the Summit Daily News

As the need for child care remains high in Summit County, officials are banking on a new facility slated to open later this year in Silverthorne to provide needed assistance to hundreds of families.

More than 600 children are currently on a childcare waiting list, according to Catherine Schaaf, program director for the social services organization Early Childhood Options, which makes recommendations to families seeking childcare in the area. It’s a need “far beyond what we currently have” for services in the county, she said.

Summit County Commissioner Elisabeth Lawrence said she hopes the new Silverthorne facility, which will be built next to the Smith Ranch neighborhood, will fill a critical void in the northern area of ​​the county.

“With the opening of this new center in Silverthorne, we are taking a huge step towards reducing that waiting list,” Lawrence said. “Not only is it an economic engine because it allows parents to go to work … but investing in early education is one of the best investments a community can make.”

According to Lawrence, the center, which is estimated to have cost around $8.5 million, is scheduled to open in August or September this year. Covering an area of ​​about 8,800 square meters, it will likely be able to support about 70 children a day, she said.

That number would severely impact the county’s demand for childcare, Lawrence said, realizing years of effort from a project hampered by rising costs and the COVID-19 pandemic.

After passing a property tax increase in 2018, county officials planned to use some of these new funds for what would later become the Silverthorne Child Care Center. But at the time, only about $4.5 million was budgeted for the project.

“When we were planning to open this center, the price was much lower,” Lawrence said.

A flood of funding from other stakeholders, including Silverthorne City Council, which also provided the land, enabled the county to meet the Center’s growing budgetary needs as inflation soared costs.

According to Silverthorne City Manager Ryan Hyland, the city has committed $1 million to the project. He said locating the center near Smith Ranch — an income-based housing development for workers — is a boon to working families and “gives people peace of mind that this is a place to stay.”

Help also came from the federal level after US Rep. Joe Neuguse, whose Summit County district includes, approved $750,000 to fund the center in the $1.7 trillion government funding bill passed by Congress last month had secured.

“We realized that this is a priority for the community and that we should fight for it at the federal level,” Neguse said. “There is significant unmet need and you can imagine the pressures and limitations faced by working families trying to make ends meet.”

The final plans for the Silverthorne facility include six classrooms, a small administration area, a kitchen and a multipurpose room. There are also three separate play areas for the three supervised age groups within the building.
City of Silverthorne/Image courtesy

The Silverthorne facility is set to become the sixth major center for the county, which has just over a dozen smaller centers, many of which are in-house facilities. In addition to the provision of services, the costs of childcare can also burden families.

According to Schaaf, the cost of caring for infants to toddlers — representing children ages 6 weeks to 2 years — can be $90 a day. That’s typically more than $2,000 a month for full-time working families who need weekly care, Schaaf said.

For preschool, which typically includes children ages 3 and 4, the cost can be around $1,500 per month.

“Swallowing a $1,500 to $2,000 bill for everything from housing to groceries to car insurance is a really hard pill to swallow,” Schaaf said.

The county has developed programs to help with these costs, beginning in 2007 with a subsidy program for low- and middle-income residents in the city of Breckenridge to fund preschool. That program has since expanded countywide, with eligible families of 3- and 4-year-olds able to reduce their childcare costs to about $800 a month, according to Schaaf.

But that could still be expensive for some families, said Schaaf. In these cases, a parent can stay home part of the week to save on childcare costs.

“Then that means that a parent might have to forgo pay one day a week,” Schaaf said, adding that working families “can be very difficult to move the needle” when it comes to their income goes.

Lawrence, the county commissioner, said she knows that feeling all too well. Nearly two decades ago, Lawrence said that as a single, working mother, she spends more than half her income on childcare. When she became a recipient of Breckenridge’s grant program, Lawrence said it made a big difference.

“I remember what it was like living here,” Lawrence said. “Without childcare, it’s really difficult to find a place and go to work.”

Lawrence said pricing has not yet been determined for the Silverthorne site and the county is waiting to see how the state’s universal preschool program works this year will affect the rates. But even as that project nears completion, more investment in county childcare will likely be needed in the future, Lawrence said.

“We know we have this waiting list and we have to help,” she said.