‘Unprecedented’ partnership with CDOT could solve two big issues in Steamboat
The Yampa Valley may have a long-awaited plan to build a child care facility in Steamboat Springs through a partnership with the Colorado Department of Transportation that would also net the agency employee housing for snowplow drivers.
In a joint meeting between City Council and county commissioners on Tuesday, Nov. 15, Commissioner Beth Melton said talks with CDOT officials about building a facility are still preliminary, but have been encouraging.
“There’s really a mutual benefit here,” Melton said. “This seems like a pretty unprecedented opportunity that we would have that would have multiple benefits for our community.”
With results varying depending on the definition used, much of Routt County is considered a child care desert, and the closing of a center in South Routt last year pushed the situation to a crisis-point that hasn’t been easing.
The city and county partnering to build a facility has long been talked about, but a study earlier this year showed it wouldn’t work on land the county currently owns, and city properties weren’t ideal either.
Included in that study was a parcel owned by CDOT adjacent to the Steamboat Springs Community Center on the west side of town. It didn’t score the highest of nine sites reviewed this summer, but it was near the top.
A child care committee composed of Melton, council member Joella West, City Manager Gary Suiter and County Manager Jay Harrington has since met with CDOT about using the land for a joint facility that would include child care space and apartments to house both child care workers and snowplow drivers.
Melton said Harrington referred to the meeting as the most productive meeting he has ever had with the state agency.
“CDOT is very excited about it, and since it’s their property at the moment, that’s pretty exciting,” West said.
Winnie DelliQuadri, the city’s special projects and intergovernmental services manager, said they were going to work with a new state office called the Public Private Partnership Office, which was ready to take steps to pull the partnership together.
“The biggest thing that is going to take some time is to identify the scope of work for the conceptual planning and then actually doing the conceptual planning,” DelliQuadri said. “Until we identify how the site can support a child care center of a certain size and a certain number of apartments, we won’t be able to get into the … financial discussions.”
DelliQuadri said it will likely take a month to six weeks to get a consultant to do this work on board and then four to six months to iron out the planning and costs estimations on the project. She said she would hope that a year from now, commissioners and council would be making final decisions on whether to move forward with the project or not.
Early discussions with CDOT have moved toward a building with childcare on the lower floor with at least two levels of apartments above. Access for the center could utilize a turnaround loop already in the area for the community center.
This initial planning process will be covered by the state, and there is optimism other funding opportunities for the project would be available. The city and county may need to pitch in funding for planning too, but that will be in a later discussion.
The city and county will need to contribute to build the center eventually as well, though that discussion may be a year away.
“The challenge has been finding a place,” said Commissioner Tim Corrigan. “We have all committed, at least to building a child care center at least conceptually. … I can’t speak for my fellow commissioners or future commissioners, but I’m reasonably certain I would be supporting some kind of county funding.”
Also part of the discussion was how this facility would be staffed, as some local centers have the physical space to care for more children but lack staff to open those rooms. Having housing for child care workers on site could help with recruiting for these positions.
West said there is also collaboration between Colorado Mountain College locally and Steamboat Springs High School to help get more locals into the early childhood education field, offering students certificates needed upon graduation.
“That’s very much on a parallel threshold,” West said.
Another encouraging note on the hiring front is that Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp. has been successful hiring staff from beyond the valley as they prepare to open its own facility for employees before the end of the year, Melton said.
“I think the success they had with that can certainly inform how to do this well,” Melton said.
To reach Dylan Anderson, call 970-871-4247 or email danderson@SteamboatPilot.com.
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