Vail Valley Foundation presents a unique early child care proposal to Avon


A new type of nonprofit-private-public partnership and employer-sponsored model could lead to a new early child care center in Avon, filling a large need in the community.

At the Tuesday, Aug. 23, Town Council meeting, the Vail Valley Foundation presented a proposal to build an 11,000-square-foot licensed early learning center on an approximately 4-acre plot of land within The Village at Avon development. As presented, the initiative could bring 12 preschool classrooms to serve around 168 children from the community.

This plot of land, dubbed Planning Area E, is being contemplated for a new early childcare center. The 4-acre plot of land is part of The Village at Avon development.
Courtesy Photo

Presenting to the Town Council, Mike Imhof, the president of the Vail Valley Foundation, said that the initial idea for the center came from a private sector task force and the community engagement committee formed by the Vail Valley Foundation during the pandemic.

“We spent probably three, four months having multiple meetings trying to figure out as we’re going to exit the pandemic and move toward normal operations, ‘What is it that the Vail Valley Foundation can do?’” Imhof said. “We saw the child care desert issue of Eagle County as one that we could tackle.”

The idea is that the early child care center would operate as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit under the name, Eagle River Childcare Initiative. This nonprofit would operate, according to a report in the Aug. 23 packet, as an “employer-sponsored child care model, where local businesses can opt in, as a benefit to their employees, to subsidize a meaningful portion of their monthly child care expenses.”

The idea behind this model narrows in on the fact that finding suitable child care has been a growing need in the Eagle County community, particularly for local employers and the workforce.

“As we all know, between transportation, child care and housing, those are the big, hard nuts to crack. And I think we have all proven very successful not to be able to crack either one of them in the 30-plus years that I’ve been here,” said Johannes Faessler, owner of Sonnenalp Resort and board executive committee member at the Vail Valley Foundation. “I think this is a really unique opportunity … This is for potentially 150 spots in an early childhood facility, (which) would do amazing things for this community, for the people who live here and for the people who have businesses here.”

The proposal

In a letter addressing the Town Council in its Aug. 23 packet, the Vail Valley Foundation reports that the most recent Head Start Community Assessment found that “there are more than 3,087 children under the age of five in Eagle County,” but only 1,565 licensed childcare slots available for these children across Eagle County. In Avon specifically, there are 10 licensed providers with the capacity to serve 386 children.

While this new center, the letter states, “will not meet the needs of every family in our community who needs child care, it will be designed to serve approximately 150-170 children ages 0-5 on a daily basis,” as currently proposed.

As proposed, the tentative 168 slots would be divided as follows:

  • 32 for infant slots ages birth to 12 months (4 classrooms)
  • 24 for toddler slots ages 12 to 24 months (2 classrooms)
  • 32 for discovery preschool slots ages 2 to 3 years old (2 classrooms)
  • 40 for preschool ages 3 to 4 years old (2 classrooms)
  • 40 for Pre-K ages 4-5 (2 classrooms)

The hope is local employers will provide the largest portion of funding. However, the foundation contemplates that additional funding will come from additional public funding, tuition from families, grant funding and individual donations.

Should the project move forward through construction, the idea is the Eagle River Valley Childcare Initiative would find a third-party nonprofit child care provider to run the center’s day-to-day operations.

The packet includes a letter of support for an employer-based child care grant application signed by representatives of the Vail Valley Foundation, Eagle County government, town of Avon, Vail Resorts, Vail Health, Sonnenalp Resort, Eagle River Water and Sanitation District, Eagle County School District and EastWest. The letter promises collaboration between the parties to serve this need for their employees.

“Our employees with young children need this new facility, and we are committed to supporting our valued employees with children ages 0-5 having affordable access to this childcare center,” the letter reads. 

Faessler expressed excitement over the unique opportunity this widespread community collaboration could bring to this challenging problem.

“My vision is really that this is really just the first step and that a similar model where towns, county, nonprofits, private businesses actually come together and solve a problem like that that none of those entities individually have proven to be able to solve is really just a unique opportunity,” he said.

At the Aug. 23 Town Council meeting, Imhof also reported that the child care initiative will also consider adding affordable housing to the parcel to accommodate local employees and employees of the facility.

Looking ahead

The plot of land contemplated for the child care center is part of a 4-acre plot of land in The Village at Avon. This plot was acquired by the town from Traer Creek in the 2012 litigation settlement and holds child care as a “special review use,” according to a report by Avon Town Manager Eric Heil.

According to Heil, Eagle County Schools has said they do not foresee a need for the property for K-12 education and the council previously considered — and ultimately denied — a proposal from Oak Village Academy on the land in 2020.

“Direction from Council was to engage stakeholders and pursue a local, community-based approach,” Heil wrote in his report regarding the Oak Village proposal.

At the work session on Aug. 23, Heil added that the new proposal from the Vail Valley Foundation came forward after that and presented a “positive concept that is worth pursuing further.”

“We’re at the point where Vail Valley Foundation does have grants and some funding to proceed and would like to proceed collaboratively with the town as the owner of the property, start looking at the designs, costs, programming, partnerships, operations,” Heil said.

Heil added that in moving forward the town would be looking for a few things including equitable partnership, looking at housing as a component of the facility, possible reserved spaces for Avon employees and residents and assurance of financial assistance and subsidies to reach “households that otherwise couldn’t afford that early childhood education.”

At the meeting, all council members expressed interest in continuing to pursue what this initiative and partnership could lead to.

There was a concern brought up by Council member RJ Andrade that the town would need to proceed carefully as a government entity funding a business that would compete with other private child care providers. However, Imhof responded that the need for child care is so great that the providers the foundation has talked to do not see this initiative as competition.

“We did pull together early on all of the early child care providers to bring them into the discussion of what we hope to achieve; it was one of the first steps we took because it could be seen, we thought, as competitive,” Imhof said. “The outcome was just the opposite. The reality is the level of need across the entire valley, whoever is already operating their own centers themselves, anything incremental is not a threat to their existing business and it’s just a lift for all.”

And with the council in favor of moving forward in partnership on the project, Imhof identified that the initiative’s next steps were to bring in an architect to design the facility and potential housing and then evaluate possible cost structures.

For the town’s part, Heil identified that with council support, town staff would be “participating at the table every step of the way,” also suggesting that one or two council members join at the table as well.

“Besides the architectural drawings, there’s a lot to sort out: in the structure of a nonprofit; the funding contributions; what Eagle County is going to put into this; how it would work operationally, the programming, to what level of affordability it would be; what’s the long-term? Is it a land lease? Some other type of arrangement? So, there’s a very long list of details that would need to be identified, let alone sorted through,” Heil said. “This is only the beginning.”

As the project moves forward, Imhof also added that the foundation doesn’t see the launch of an Eagle River Valley Childcare center in Avon as the final stop for the initiative.  

“Our organization is committed to starting here in Avon with an incremental, affordable child care facility,” he said, adding that the next step would be to “repeat this process downvalley in Edwards, Eagle, Gypsum and Dotsero to try and make a dent in one of the main three top workforce issues that we face.”

All members of council supported the partnership moving forward, all identifying the potential widespread community impact such a facility could bring.

“I can’t say how much I support this enough, I appreciate that you all are problem-solving for the community. It’s much needed,” said Council member Lindsay Hardy. “I know we’re always looking for public-private partnerships and this is a beautiful nonprofit and public partnership that I think is very much needed. And I’m always about ‘live-work-play’ in our community, but now we would facilitate other benefits to the community, so I really appreciate everything that you’re doing.”

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