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Child care proponents are applying for at least $800,000 in grants to open an infant/toddler care center in Clear Creek County.

An early care group — comprised of representatives from the county, the school district, and the rec district — is looking at an employer-based model so that each government entity can use the early care center as a recruiting tool.

The center’s capacity would be around 60 students. Once the center is open, the group hopes community members can use it as well, although exact details haven’t been worked out yet.

The early care group has asked the Clear Creek school board to use space in Building 103, however the board hasn’t committed yet, saying it needs to determine how to house Carlson Elementary there first.

As part of a grant application this month, the group has asked the three government entities for letters of support and a five-year commitment. It also asked the county for $100,000 to employ a coordinator, who would apply for grants and work on opening the center.

The Clear Creek Board of County Commissioners submitted a letter saying it was generally supportive, but still had a lot of unanswered questions. It didn’t commit any funds either, but said it’d take it under consideration.

During a Feb. 9 meeting, Commissioners Randy Wheelock and Sean Wood said they wanted to know how residents could take advantage of this proposed early care center, and whether its business plan would have measures to add capacity.

“There are too many unknowns to put something down on paper that will hold us to any kind of commitment,” Wood said.

Commissioner George Marlin also wanted the letter to express the county’s enthusiasm that it will work out these details with its partners in due course.

A child care desert

A 2019 survey found that Clear Creek was a veritable “day care desert,” as School District Superintendent Karen Quanbeck said on Feb. 1. Parents are making do with nannies, neighbors, friends and family members, with some watching their children themselves because they can’t afford child care.

Thus, representatives from Clear Creek Metropolitan Recreation District, Clear Creek County and Clear Creek School District have been meeting over the last year to find a way to establish a local care center for infants and toddlers. The group has asked the school board for 4,600 square feet of space plus space for a playground, and it would need parking and drop-off space in Building 103, known as the former middle school.

Developing the early care center will cost an estimated $1.2 million, and the group is applying for a state grant of up to $800,000. Because the three participating employers are government entities, the match is only 25%. If there were any private employers, it’d be 50%, Becky Dancer said at a Feb. 1 commissioners meeting.

Dancer, who is a CCSD representative in the early care group, said the school district sent out a Request for Interest for entities to operate the early care center. CCMRD was the only one that responded.

Cameron Marlin, CCMRD’s general manager, said operating an early care center would align with the district’s mission statement and current services. Additionally, it would foster a love of recreation among local children and be a recruiting tool for CCMRD staff.

“We’re happy and proud of what we have going with Kidz Korner, and we don’t want to compete with another provider,” Cameron Marlin said. “It could be a win-win for everybody.”

When asked how the center would balance serving the three employers versus the larger community, Dancer said those details will be worked out. She wasn’t sure whether county, school district and rec district employees would have priority, or whether it’d be open to everyone equally.

“Based on the (current) data … we wouldn’t be at capacity with the three employer groups,” Dancer continued.

County Manager Brian Bosshardt liked the prospect of using the early care center as a recruiting tool, but said, “There have to be guaranteed spots.”