Steamboat Resort secures spot for child care center; City, county still looking

Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. has begun renovations on its new child care center at 3001 South Lincoln Ave. The center is slated to open by the end of the year.
Dylan Anderson/Steamboat Pilot & Today

As Steamboat Springs and Routt County continue to discuss building a joint child care facility, Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp. is beginning renovations on its own center slated to open by the end of the year.

Ski Corp. announced last year that it intended to open a center to serve employees, and now has leased space near the intersection of U.S. Highway 40 and Walton Creek Road.

“We will start out construction and renovations as soon as we can,” said Maren Franciosi, communications manager for the resort. “There’s some indoor and outdoor work that needs to be complete. It’s a fairly new building, so I think that is playing in our favor.”

Access to child care in Routt County — considered by some metrics to be a child care desert — hit a crisis point last August when a center in South Routt County closed, leaving dozens of families scrambling to find care. Despite various efforts, the situation has not improved much since then, as some centers have maintained reduced class sizes due to short staffing and desperate parents have camped out in center parking lots to get their name on a waitlist.

But businesses like Ski Corp. trying to provide child care is seen as one of the fastest ways to address the shortage locally — a shortage currently costing the local economy about $10 million a year, according to a feasibility study done by Routt County and Steamboat Springs.

Ski Corp.’s space is at 3001 South Lincoln Ave., across U.S. 40 from Quality Inn and Suites. Much of the work will be building out the various classrooms and adding required playground space outside. Franciosi said the center will accommodate about 30 children and is expected to open in December.

Franciosi said Sarah Mikkelson, who was hired in January to serve as the new center’s executive director, looked throughout Steamboat for a suitable place for the new center, and this spot was favorable because of its central location.

“We thought it was a good spot for parents commuting to work from anywhere in Steamboat up to the resort or even our office building (near Wild Horse Plaza),” Franciosi said.

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But while Ski Corp. has a location in place, a joint effort between the city and county is still mulling possibilities. On Tuesday, July 19, county commissioners and Steamboat council members reviewed more results from a feasibility study that looked at nine potential locations for a new center.

The study, conducted by nonprofit Colorado Executives Partnering to Invest in Children, or EPIC, is a continuation of work that initially explored squeezing a center next to Routt County’s under construction Health and Human Service Building in downtown Steamboat. Ultimately, officials saw that location as less than ideal and directed EPIC to look elsewhere.  

The nine sites included city owned property at the Stockbridge Transit Center, near the railroad tracks on 13th Street and a 2.7-acre property near Lithia Spring and Evans Street. The study also explored a Colorado Department of Transportation owned parcel, four privately owned lots and the initial space explored near the county’s new building.

Stockbridge Transit Center scored the highest in the study, though building there would likely lead to a reduction in the amount of parking. The 13th Street parcel also scored high, as did the CDOT land and two private spots at 1960 Bridge Lane, and 1801 Lincoln Avenue — all of which are west of downtown.

But other than council member Michael Buccino, who said he preferred the 13th Street parcel, council members and commissioners didn’t specify which location they wanted to move forward with.

Commissioner Beth Melton said they needed to think about more than just a location and dig into the operational side of the center, specifically how it will be staffed.

“Staffing shortages are really a circular problem,” Melton said. “We have centers just poaching staff from each other and we’re just moving people around. Building a 15,000 square foot child care facility doesn’t solve that problem at all, and in fact could exacerbate that side of the issue.”

Council member Heather Sloop said she believes there is a larger staffing problem they cannot ignore and part of the discussion should be how they help better compensate and acknowledge the work of early childhood education teachers.

Commissioner Tim Corrigan said he felt it was a “chicken and egg situation,”

“Do we feel like we need to cure (staffing issues) before we pursue building a building, or do we think we’re going to need the building no matter what?” he asked

He said he was “underwhelmed” by the various options the study included, but also didn’t want to delay progress on adding a center with a prolonged search for the most ideal location.

City and county leaders agreed to continue to explore building a facility. Melton suggested they create a group that included staff from each entity to continue planning and report back at the next joint meeting scheduled for September. Council members Joella West and Gail Garey each volunteered to work on this with Melton.

“We can all have a glass of wine and figure it out,” Melton said.

“It may take more than one glass,” West added.

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