School district continues planning for Gypsum early learning center, housing project

As currently proposed, the project could bring 350 early childhood spots and 50 units of employee housing

As the down valley populations grow, so does the need for early childhood and K-12 classrooms. The Eagle County School District is currently in the process of designing a potential early childhood learning center and employee housing development in Gypsum near both Red Hill and Gypsum elementary schools.
Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily archive

The Eagle County School District is currently undergoing planning and design work on an early childhood learning and employee housing project in Gypsum. In addition to providing critical housing to its employees, the project will also address capacity issues the district has faced in down valley communities.

The development is located between Red Hill Elementary and Gypsum Creek Middle School — also known as the IK Bar property — and could serve 320 children and bring 50 units of housing.

The initial funding for the planning and design phase — which is expected to be complete in March — came from a state grant issued in July 2022. The grant provided $1 million for the district to pursue the project’s development, $800,000 of which came from the state and $125,000 in matching funds from the county and district.

Due to the parameters of the grant, the board had to approve an attestation to the district’s direction in pursuing the down valley early learning center. This attestation stipulates that while the district intends to use the grant funds for design work on the site, the grant award is “contingent on the passing of a ballot measure to fund the construction of the building,” according to a June 2022 board report.

Further, the attestation holds that the district has three years to raise funds for the building. Should it be successful, it must keep the center operational for at least five years. If the district doesn’t raise the funds for construction, it will have to repay the $800,000 to the state.

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The school district contracted TAB Associates for the design and architecture of the project in August 2022. The firm was tapped due to its previous experiences building both early childhood education and housing developments on the Western Slope.

The need for additional infant, toddler and preschool classrooms is well established in the Gypsum area, as the down valley population has exploded in recent years. The district has been working to increase capacity, installing modular units at both elementary schools in Gypsum for this school year.

Should the center be built, the eight preschool classrooms currently housed at Red Hill and Gypsum elementary schools would move to the center, which would free up needed classrooms for the schools’ kindergarten through fifth-grade classes. It would also add capacity for the early childhood classrooms, not only creating additional preschool spaces but adding toddler and infant rooms as well.   

Bigger than projected

Initially, it was expected that the site could serve 290 children in a variety of infant, toddler and preschool classrooms. The preliminary design contemplated a single two-story, 61,500-square-foot building for both the early childhood center and housing. However, as part of a budget item on the consent agenda at the Wednesday, Feb. 8 school board meeting, the latest design significantly expanded the development.

Not only was there a 200% increase in building square footage, but also the projects were separated on the site to “create a clear delineation between the learning environment and the employee housing,” reads the board report. This, it added is “the best use for the site.”

The latest design contemplates a 48,000-square-foot early learning center that could serve 320 children in the same age range. According to the board memo, the projected hard costs for this facility are estimated at $29.4 million.

The current design also contemplates 50 units of employee housing in four buildings. This includes two apartment buildings with 20 units per building and two townhomes with five units per building. This would add 80,000 square feet of employee housing and has an estimated hard cost of $32 million.

Due to the design evolution, the school board was asked on Wednesday to approve a revised fee schedule. In August, the board approved the design contract for $268,675, however, the design change led to a 46% increase in the fees for this master planning, concept and schematic design phase.

As part of its consent agenda, the board approved the new fee of $393,774. 

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