The Clear Creek school board faces a conundrum now that a group has asked the board to commit to renting space for a year-round infant/toddler care center in the building that will be the new home for Carlson Elementary.

Representatives from the Early Care Team have asked for a commitment soon because grants may be available in 2022 to help create the child care center. The team is asking for a low-cost lease for about 4,600 square feet of space to house 62 children from infants through pre-kindergarten with shared access to the playground and situated so there is a pickup and dropoff location for parents.

They said other options were too expensive, too small or with lease options that were too short.

While board members agreed that Clear Creek County was a child care desert and child care was a priority, they were leery about making a commitment before they have a better idea of what the new Carlson Elementary School will look like when it goes into the former middle school known as Building 103.

“The challenge that we face with this question is it’s early in the process,” Superintendent Karen Quanbeck said. “It feels weird because it’s backward.”

Board members wanted to know the type of commitment the Early Care Team needs to go after grants, saying while they believe a child care center is a good use for the space, they don’t know whether it’s feasible.

The board plans to meet in an executive session soon to discuss the idea further.

The Early Care Team consists of representatives from Clear Creek County, the Clear Creek Metropolitan Recreation District, Red Rocks Community College’s Child Care Innovations program and the school district.

Becky Dancer, CCSD’s director of teaching and learning who serves on the team, said the goal was to open an infant/toddler program as early as fall 2023.

The Early Care Team and school board members understand that child care options are necessary to keep employees in the district, in Idaho Springs and the county.

“If we build it, people will be interested in coming,” Dancer said.

“The core programming (in Building 103) has to be around the elementary school,” Quanbeck added. “We have not yet figured out where those pieces will be with an architect. We have ideas, but we really need architects to help with that before we know what kind of room is available for a child care center. Conceptually, it’s sort of easy to say that we super love the idea, but when we get nitty gritty, what does that mean?”

Board members said while the community has communicated the need for child care loud and clear, they didn’t want to make a decision on a child care center until they had more input from the community, something they promised as the district went for the bond to pay for the new Carlson Elementary School.

“I don’t feel like we are being genuine to the community if we are already carving off a section (of the building) for a use,” board member Erica Haag said. “I feel like we’re saying we want to do public engagement, but as far as this piece, we’re jumping ahead of public engagement.”

Quanbeck promised to consult with district experts before the school board continues its discussion.

“There’s a way to find a solution, but we’re not there yet,” she said.