Couple close to opening South Routt child care center
YAMPA — Kasey O’Halloran and her husband, Kieran, are hoping to provide a service severely lacking in South Routt and the entire county — affordable care for children younger than 3.
The undertaking is a labor of love for the Yampa couple, who are parents to a 1-year-old and 3-year-old.
On Thursday, the O’Hallorans met with the Routt County Planning Commission, which voted unanimously to approve the special use permit for the new daycare with 25 conditions of approval.
“We believe we can or have already met the conditions so we’re feeling hopeful,” Kasey O’Halloran said following the meeting.
The permit goes before Routt County commissioners for final approval Jan. 8.
After their first son was born, Kasey kept waiting for someone else to open a day care in South Routt.
She looked in Steamboat Springs for options, but she barely came out ahead working and paying tuition, and she didn’t want her child to spend an hour and a half in the car each day.
Plus, she wanted her kids to make friends who would also be going onto South Routt schools.
Kasey originally intended to go back to work full time, but the lack of child care options and her desire to spend more time with her kids dictated a different career path.
She currently works part time and has help from family for child care. For awhile she found a home-based child care provider.
Once her oldest son turned 3, she was able to get him into Soroco Preschool but not before 10 months spent on the waiting list and the entry age changing from 2 1/2 to 3.
Now she wants her 1-year-old to have an opportunity to benefit from everything an early childhood learning center offers before he turns 3.
Over the past five months, the O’Hallorans have spent significant time and money toward their goal. After an extensive real estate search, they found a house in Phippsburg suitable for converting into a large child care center, accommodating about 30 kids.
Kasey said Phippsburg is “the perfect middle ground” for Stagecoach, Oak Creek, Yampa and Toponas.
Luckily, Kieran is an architect and a “brilliant remodeler,” according to his wife.
Once they have the special use permit, they can begin renovations. Applying as a large center means there must be three separate areas for infants, toddlers and preschool-aged children – among the countless other state licensing requirements outlined in a 456-page document.
Once the building is ready, they need approval from the fire department and health department, and an inspection by the state child care licensing specialist.
The grade of the driveway and parking lot had been a major issue calling for the hiring of a special engineer, but as they get that resolved, Kasey’s primary concern is the requirement for a commercial fire suppression system with an estimated cost of $40,000.
The costs, regulations and application process for opening a new center are numerous and stringent as one would hope when the safety and wellbeing of children are involved.
But there also has to be a balance, said Stephanie Martin, program administrator for First Impressions of Routt County.
“We want the environment to be safe,” she said, “but not so over the top that it prevents people from opening a viable business.”
According to Martin and the O’Hallorans, those regulations and expenses are a very large part of the reason why there are no licensed childcare centers in South Routt and only 94 licensed spots for babies younger than 2 across the county.
It’s been nearly 15 years since a new program opened in the entire county, Martin said.
“When people ask why there isn’t more child care, this is why,” Kasey said. “It is so hard, and there are few people as stubborn as I am.”
The O’Hallorans’ center would also provide seven new jobs.
“It’s very exciting they’ve made it as far as they have,” Martin said.
And even if the O’Hallorans find a way over the permitting hurdles, it isn’t an easy business. They aren’t expecting to make a huge profit, or any, in the beginning. A bookkeeper and numbers person by training, Kasey has done all the math.
“You should see my spreadsheets,” she said.
By keeping the care as affordable as possible for families, paying living and competitive wages to staff, and ensuring sufficient staffing numbers for high quality care, the couple expect to barely break even.
But though there have been plenty of hurdles, Kasey said there have also been many wonderful resources of support, including Martin and First Impressions and other local agencies and nonprofits.
For now, they will keep pushing forward and remain optimistic that the South Routt community and their son will soon have a new child care center.
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