Learning Tree child care center seeks new home | VailDaily.com

Learning Tree child care center seeks new home

EAGLE — When she hears stories or reads articles about the lack of child care options in Eagle County, Pamela Green, the director of The Learning Tree in Eagle, finds herself nodding in agreement.

"People are calling, when they are only two or three months pregnant, to beg us to save a spot for them. I have a book full of those names," Green said.

The Learning Tree, located along Capitol Street in Eagle, is the only downvalley child care center that accepts infants. But the school only has five infant spots and only accepts 15 kids per day. Its low child to teacher ratio, along with its program offerings, have earned a high rating with the Colorado Office of Early Childhood Education Colorado Shines system.

"We are a quality program, according to Colorado Shines," Green said. But in the near future, The Learning Tree in Eagle may become a quality program without a home.

According to Green, the owner of the former home where the program is now located has expressed an interest in selling the property.

"She is not pushing us out into the street, but she would like us to start looking for a new location," said Green. "We aren't planning on moving tomorrow and if we could find larger space, that would be nice."

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But because there are many site requirements for a quality child care center, The Learning Tree can't just pick up and move to any open space.

Then, of course, there are money considerations. As a nonprofit program, The Learning Tree currently pays about $1,500 a month rent.

"We really can't afford more than that," said Green.

Green has begun the search for new quarters, scoping out both residential and commercial spaces in the Eagle and Gypsum area. So far, her search hasn't revealed the right option.

Town Appeal

Earlier this summer, representatives from The Learning Tree approached the Eagle Town Board with a proposal to allow the school to operate out of the Brush Creek Studio Building at the Brush Creek Park. The studio building is the smaller structure located at the park, between the large, historic barn building and the Eagle Ranch Pavilion.

Parent Shara Crow made an impassioned plea before the board.

"You don't need me to tell you there is a child care crisis in Eagle County," she said. "When you consider making public space available for community organizations, please keep us in mind."

According to town staff, the studio building sees heavy community use. The town rents out both the Studio and the Pavilion to residents and non-residents for special events, meetings and other gatherings. The rental fee for the Brush Creek Pavilion ranges from $125 for Monday through Thursday for an Eagle resident to $400 for Friday through Sunday for a non-resident. The studio is a more affordable alternative that rents for $40 Monday through Thursday for an Eagle resident. The weekend rate for residents is $100. The week day rate is $60 and the weekend rate is $100 for non-residents.

Kevin Brubeck, member of the Eagle Town Board, noted the issue of private use of public space has become a hot topic for the town. He noted that the board has not discussed The Learning Tree request in detail — and in fact has not received a detailed request — but members also have been approached with requests for operations at the old Eagle Town Hall and at Chambers Park.

Brubeck believes the town needs a process to evaluate and debate such requests.

"I can see this as being an issue if we don't have a process to make sure everyone in treated the same," he said.

"These needs are all great, whoever they are," Brubeck said, noting that everything from child care to exercise programs for the elderly have surfaced as possible programs for town facilities.

"There's nothing worse than under-utilized facilities," he said. "But there is always a cost associated, too. Whatever we do, we want to try to provide a benefit for everyone."

Brubeck said that Eagle Town Manager John Schneiger has been tasked with the job of coming up with a policy and process for public use of town facilities.

"We aren't finished with the discussion," said Brubeck.

Eagle Ranch Pavilion and Studio report

In response to The Learning Tree’s request that the town of Eagle consider renting out the studio space for a child care facility, town staff complied the following report about the facility.

“Studio rental policies are for special events and activities for use by the public. This is done on a first-come, first–serve basis. Weddings may reserve the facility up to one year in advance. Policy states rentals are allowed up to six times by the same individual for Friday – Sunday rentals, and currently unlimited for Monday – Thursday. Pavilion and Studio are often rented together by same parties for large events and weddings, to keep the venue private.

Town special events are intended to take priority over all uses at both the Studio and Pavilion. In 2016 the Pavilion and Studio saw 80 percent booking on all weekends (Friday-Sunday) and 25 percent booking on Monday – Thursday. There were 22 weddings booked at this facility in 2016. As a policy, the studio is not rented during weddings and large events to lower conflict of uses and allow for ample parking.

“Average cost for facility rental of the Pavilion on a weekend is $250 a day. Town staff currently manages the facility calendar, assists individuals with their reservations, collects fees and are present during check in and check out at 8 a.m. on the day of the rental.

“Studio Rental costs range from are $25 to $60 per day for Monday – Thursday and $50 – $150 per day Friday – Sunday.

“Studio Capacity is about 140 people for functions as listed in our guidelines. There are two restrooms with two stalls each. There are no kitchen facilities.

“The town does not inspect or license child care facilities either in home or for a child care center. Determining whether or not this facility is suitable as is or with improvements would be the determination of a county inspector or from Sandra Jennings at Eagle County who provides this service to the public. According to our planning department, current zoning for the Studio would allow for child care as a use.

“Usage for 2015 at both Pavilion and Studio saw approximately 140 individual users. This does not include park users or events held at the soccer field.”

Having a consistent use at the Studio could substantially reduce appeal and accessibly to the campus and park as a whole. Storage, food prep, safety and parking could have an impact on Pavilion and Special Events at Brush Creek Park and public use of this area.”

“To staff’s knowledge there has been no other request of this nature to use the facility in this manner or for exclusive, extended use.”