New day care will be first to open in Routt County in 15 years | SteamboatToday.com

New day care will be first to open in Routt County in 15 years

Kasey O’Halloran talks with a prospective client in the infant room at Little Lambs Daycare, her soon-to-open child care center in Phippsburg.

Kari Dequine Harden

PHIPPSBURG — Kasey and Kieran O’Halloran couldn’t find day care for their son, so they decided to open their own.

Little Lambs Daycare will be the first newly licensed center to open in Routt County in 15 years.

And, it will be the only center in South Routt — a designated “child care desert.”

On Saturday, the couple will celebrate by hosting an open house to meet prospective families and thank the community for its support.

The journey has not been an easy one.

The young couple borrowed about $275,000 to start the business — all before they are able to bring in a single dollar. And, Kasey acknowledges that is significantly less than if they were to construct a new building or buy in Steamboat.

“It’s been an uphill battle, but we’ve climbed all the hills,” Kasey said.

They almost abandoned the plan after being told they needed a $100,000 commercial fire suppression system, but they found a code expert who said they could meet requirements by adding an extra door.

The walls of the day care are painted with bright colors and murals.
Kari Dequine Harden

It’s been a family affair, which has also cut costs.

On the busy Wednesday afternoon before the open house, Kasey’s father and father-in-law worked on the converted house, finishing the trim and flooring in the ADA-compliant bathroom and installing the infant bottle prep sink.  

Kasey’s husband, an architect, heads over to the center after his other job and dinner with their two boys, often working until 11 p.m.

Kasey’s mother has done most of the cleaning and painting in the bright, totally renovated space with colorful rooms in the themes of sea, sun and sky.

“I’m pretty much here all day, every day,” Kasey said.

She said she doesn’t know an exact date for the facility’s opening because absolutely everything — from the types of toys in each room to the grade of the driveway — has to be ready in advance of the county inspections. Once they have approval from the building, zoning and health departments, they can schedule the state inspection required for their license.

She’s holding the open house Saturday to get a better sense of enrollment.

Kasey O’Halloran stands in front of her new day care, Little Lambs Daycare, in Phippsburg.
Kari Dequine Harden

They have eight slots in the infant room, but she will base the number of toddler and preschool slots on community need. She’s already finding a greater demand for the 1-to-3 age group.

“We have moms who are so desperate,” Kasey said. About five mothers reach out to her every week.

It is the primary goal of the First Impression Early Childhood Council’s to increase slots available for infants and toddlers in Routt County. And Stephanie Martin, First Impressions program administrator, helped guide Kasey throughout the process.

In Yampa, there is a preschool operated by the South Routt School District, but they almost always have a waiting list, and demand for care for kids under 3 years old is extremely high across the county.

In Oak Creek, the Child Care Network holds a “Play and Learn” group every Tuesday and Thursday morning for children from birth to 3. Because South Routt, and specifically Oak Creek, is a designated “child care desert,” grant funding makes the program possible at no cost for families. It isn’t child care, however. It is a program for parents or other caregivers to attend along with their babies and toddler.

Kids and their parents have the opportunity to participate in reading, singing, art, pretend play and movement activities, all based on their developmental stages. Kids get to interact, and parents have the opportunity to talk to other parents, as well as get expert advice from Sharon Butler, program manager for the Family Development Center’s Newborn and Child Care Networks.

Butler said program feedback has been very positive so far; however, funding and finding affordable space remains an unknown from year to year. 

The money, time, energy and requisite perseverance put in by Kasey and Kieran went above and beyond any typical entrepreneurial endeavors.

Kasey, an accountant by training, will be the owner and operator and has already hired the majority of her staff.

As they set their rates, Kasey ran careful calculations on how they could meet operating expenses and pay off their loans over seven years. After that, she said, they can become debt free, and, maybe in 10 years, even earn a profit.

The infant component is especially costly in terms of requirements and staffing, but Kasey said they wouldn’t even consider not including an infant room. The whole point is to meet the greatest needs in the community, she said, as well as those of their own family, which they plan to grow.

But while the process has felt like a marathon of hurdle after hurdle, bogged down by the weight of immense bureaucracy at both the county and state levels, she said they were supported throughout.

“It’s fun to watch it come to life,” she said. “It’s actually happening.”

The open house will be held from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, April 6, at Little Lambs Daycare, 21762 Fourth Ave., in Phippsburg. Visit littlelambscare.com for more information.

To reach Kari Dequine Harden, call 970-871-4205, email kharden@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @kariharden.


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