Steamboat Resort hires director for new child care center

The center will serve Ski & Resort Corp. employees and hopes to open in November

A classroom sits empty at Heritage Park Preschool last fall because the center lacked enough certified staff to keep the room open. Child care availability remains a concern in Routt County, but a new center at the resort could be a step in the right direction
Shelby Reardon/Steamboat Pilot & Today

Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp. can check off the first big step to creating its own child care center for employees after announcing the addition of longtime local to serve as director.

Sarah Mikkelson has been involved in early childhood education in the Yampa Valley for two decades, once serving as the director of the resort’s Buckaroo Roundup child care program in the early 2000s. Currently a preschool teacher at UCHealth Grandkids Child Care Center, Mikkelson will start with the resort later this week.

“I’ve done this process before, going through basically from ground zero, and it’s just really an exciting process,” Mikkelson said. “I’m really looking forward to not only running the center once it’s open, but the process of going through and doing the licensing, ordering all the toys and hiring all the staff.”

Steamboat Resort’s effort to create its own child care has long been discussed, but the closing of a center in South Routt County last fall, where some resort employees sent their children, and employees welcoming children in recent months emphasized the need.

Rob Perlman, Ski Corp.’s president and chief operating officer, said in a statement that the resort sees an opportunity to make a difference when it comes to local child care access and is committed to offering the center as a benefit for staff. The center is expected to add about 35 spots for resort employees, potentially opening up spots currently occupied by employee children in other local child care centers.

Mikkelson’s role will be to build the center from the ground up, something that Ski Corp.’s Director of Communications Loryn Duke said she already has experience doing.

“We’re laying the groundwork for a center that is going to be a huge asset to our community,” Mikkelson said. “The groundwork right now is integral to the whole process, and it is going to make a difference for Steamboat in the future, not just right now.”

The next big priority will be identifying the location for the center, which Duke said ideally would be renovated space the resort already occupies, as that would line up better with the goal of opening by the start of next ski season in November.

But while there is a lack of childcare access in Routt County, it is not necessarily because of a lack of centers as much as it is a lack of staff. The hiring woes — felt by businesses throughout the valley — have forced some local centers to keep rooms closed or to close altogether.

When the center was initially announced, Duke said the resort knew hiring was going to be an issue and was prepared to look beyond the community. But it also wanted to give someone local a chance to grow in their career. Among several candidates, Mikkelson rose to the top, Duke said.

‘New teachers’

Still, as the resort builds up staff at its new center, Duke said they don’t want to hire people away from other centers.

“We want to be careful that by opening a new facility we’re actually aiding and supporting the community instead of shifting it,” Duke said. “It doesn’t help if we hire staff that previously were at (other local centers). We need to help aid getting new teachers into our facility.”

Duke said there has been a lot of other work behind the scenes to set up the center while searching for a director, such as reaching out to other centers as well as the local early childhood council, First Impressions of Routt County. Mikkelson said the centers are very supportive of each other, fostering a collaborative environment.

Jessica Carroll, director of Grandkids, said she is sad they will lose Mikkelson but is excited for her to take on the role. Grandkids is the only other employer-affiliated child care center in Steamboat, and Carroll said they serve 11% of the staff that work at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center.

“We make a pretty big impact in the ability for working parents to have a safe place to send their children,” Carroll said.

Grandkids has a lot of staff that have been with the center for years, Carroll said, which she credits to them offering strong wages and a full benefits package, something that smaller nonprofit centers sometimes can’t offer.

Carroll said the resort’s center will certainly help employees on the mountain, but it could also add much needed infant and toddler care that is the most scarce. Carroll said infant and toddler classrooms are in the most demand at Grandkids, but ratios of children to teachers and space needed make it more expensive.

“I’m confident we will move forward and we will find the right people and continue to provide excellent care,” Carroll said. “With more child care slots becoming available in this community, that’s only going to benefit the community.”

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