Vail’s Children’s Garden of Learning finds new home

New facility will be built at Lionshead on the current charter bus and RV parking lot

This artist's rendering shows the preliminary idea for a new Children's Garden of Learning facility at Vail's current charter bus and RV parking lot at Lionshead.
Four facts:
  • The Children’s Garden of Learning will move in 2021 to an interim home just to the southeast of the Lionshead parking structure.
  • The facility will be built with modular pieces.
  • The facility will have a playground.
  • It’s about 500 feet from the Vail Public Library

The Children’s Garden of Learning has found a new home to use while it waits for its permanent home.

Vail Town Manager Scott Robson Tuesday presented the Vail Town Council with preliminary plans for a new facility to be built at the town’s current charter bus and RV parking lot on the southeast side of the Lionshead parking structure.

That new home — which could be used for as long as five years — will be custom-built from modular units — called “systems engineered buildings” — similar to the units used for the Chamonix townhomes in West Vail.

The decision to build a new center was made when the first cost estimates came in for the first idea for a temporary facility. The Children’s Garden was first going to move into a temporary home created from the building that currently holds the Vail Community Development Departent. That plan fell apart after investigation into just what the renovation would cost: $5 million or more.

That building, just west of Vail Town Hall, was built in the 1970s, and once served at the town’s post office. The study showed that the building would need to be expanded by at least 1,000 square feet. A playground would need to be constructed, and office space found for town employees who currently use the building.

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In a Wednesday phone interview, Robson said costs for the Lionshead site haven’t been finalized but the price tag could be in the “$1 to $2 million” range. Much of that cost will probably involve putting water, sewer, and electric service to the site.

‘High quality’ experience

Building new will allow Children’s Garden to continue offering a “high quality” experience, Robson said. In addition, building a new facility will allow the town to be “financially responsible” in providing the facility with new space.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Carlie Smith of the Vail Finance Department said the facility can be funded with money collected by the Vail Reinvestment Authority. That authority, created in 2003 for Lionshead public improvements, can pay for public capital projects in the Lionshead area.

Robson on Wednesday said using authority funds, instead of general fund money, has passed muster with Matt Mire, the town attorney.

During Tuesday’s virtual council meeting, Children’s Garden director Maggie Swonger told councilmembers the new idea is a good one.

“We see this Lionshead location as a win for the town, the community and our families,” Swonger said.

Robson said the Lionshead site is a credit to the town’s team.

“They wouldn’t let (the community development building) be the last alternative,” Roson said. “They looked under every corner, and at literally the 11th hour the (Lionshead site) rose to the top.”

Robson acknowledged that at first glance it sounds odd to put perhaps $2 million into a facility with an expected five-year life. The site is seen as a possible home for an events and performing arts center somewhere down the road.

But, he added, he expects the facility to be moved elsewhere when a permanent home is found for the Children’s Garden. The building could be used by other regional child care partners.

Why the move?

The Children’s Garden’s current facility is on town-owned land just east of the Middle Creek Village apartments. That site is seen as perhaps the prime candidate for building workforce housing. Housing on that site would replace the plan for housing at Booth Heights on the north side of the Interstate 70 East Vail interchange.

A wide-ranging agreement, still being negotiated, would move housing from Booth Heights to the Middle Creek site. But the Children’s Garden has to move next year if new housing built on that site can open by November of 2022.

Town officials have long pledged that the Children’s Garden won’t miss a day of service during the move. The Lionshead site makes that possible.

Then what?

Robson said he’s hopeful a permanent home for Children’s Garden can be found in less than the five-year maximum stated in an agreement between the town and the Children’s Garden board of directors.

That’s going to be tricky. Vacant land is scarce in Vail, and building is expensive. One idea would house the Children’s Garden in an addition to the Vail Gymnastics Center. That would require building a third floor on the existing building. That project has a preliminary price tag of at least $12 million.

There’s also the question of where charter buses and RVs will park in Vail. Robson said those vehicles will be able to park in West Vail, in public parking along the frontage road.

But, Robson said, the most important element moving forward is to work with partners in Vail and the rest of the valley to expand child care services.

“When you look at the wait lists, that’s something we need to focus on,” Robson said.

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at

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