Steamboat council sees hurdles for joint city-county child care facility

County commissioners had a similar reaction to the project last week

A classroom sits empty at Heritage Park Preschool because the center lacks enough certified staff to keep the room open.
Shelby Reardon/Steamboat Pilot & Today

After county officials said a publicly built child care facility in downtown Steamboat Springs likely wouldn’t work in the currently proposed location, several members of the Steamboat Springs city council had a similar reaction to the proposal on Tuesday, March 1.

Members of both groups have said the idea of building a child care facility — either run by the city or by an outside company — was appealing and still worth pursuing. But for many public officials, including all three county commissioners, shoehorning one into limited land where the county is building a new Health and Human Services building doesn’t seem like a viable option.

“This may not be the best use of our land in the middle of town,” said council member Michael Buccino. “I love the idea that we’re trying to do something with the county … but right now, to me, this project has a lot of hurdles.”

Council’s discussion followed a presentation of results of a feasibility study funded jointly with the county. The study explored adding a second building on the corner of Sixth and Oak streets in downtown Steamboat, where the county’s new building broke ground last fall. The new building is slated to be finished in early 2023.

The study, conducted by the nonprofit Colorado Executives Partnering to Invest in Children, or EPIC, found the center would cost just under $5 million to start up, though it likely wouldn’t reach full capacity for four years.

Still, the study highlighted the need for child care in the Yampa Valley, where the lack of the crucial service is costing the local economy about $10 million a year. Depending on its configuration, a new center on that spot could serve about 74 children, meeting just 15% of the need, but providing around $1.5 million each year in economic benefit.

Council did not vote on anything Tuesday, instead giving their general perceptions of the proposal ahead of a joint city-county meeting scheduled for March 15.

“I don’t think the county is buying into this location, which doesn’t mean that they’re not buying into child care,” said council member Heather Slooth. “They’re just realizing that this may be a hurdle that just too large to cross.”

An additional hurdle is parking. Current plans for the Health and Human Services building include a small parking lot with about a dozen spaces — far below the 49 that city policy would require.

Commissioner Beth Melton said last week that parking didn’t scare her away from the location, but several council members said it seemed like a significant issue to overcome.

“It isn’t just the spaces, it’s where the spaces are when you’re loading and unloading children,” said council member Joella West.

Council president Robin Crossan agreed with West, but council member Gail Garey said she didn’t want to put off addressing an issue that she said council is constantly hearing about from constituents.

“I would hate to see this not move forward because of parking,” Garey said.

But parking isn’t the only issue. As construction is already underway, adding a two-story childcare center just feet away from the new building’s footprint may add to the overall project timeline and require a slight redesign.

Commissioners have indicated they want to look for another parcel on which to locate a potential facility. While the county doesn’t own much land beyond its downtown Steamboat campus, the city has some land, though nothing specific has been officially discussed.

“There is a need for this,” said council member Eddie Briones. “I think we should look into possibly somewhere else.”

Council and county commissioners are scheduled to discuss the results of the study and next steps at a joint city-county meeting at 5 p.m. on March 15 at Centennial Hall.

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