Aspen Playgroup calls it quits in June

City of Aspen to look for new child care provider after lease negotiations with current tenant end

The city of Aspen is looking for a new child care provider to operate at its Yellow Brick building now that the municipal government and its current tenant, Aspen Playgroup, have reached an impasse in their lease negotiations.

The city intends to issue a request for proposals by the end of this month and have an agreement with new a provider in late April, according to Assistant City Manager Diane Foster.

Those plans are in response to Kadi Kuhlenberg’s decision to close her business, Aspen Playgroup, on June 3.

The closure will affect dozens of kids between the ages of 18 months and 5 years old.

Kuhlenberg had indicated to the parents of those children in December that she would be closing due to the city’s new lease terms, which are that effective in September 2023 she is required to operate five days a week instead of her current four.

After two months of discussions with city officials, Kuhlenberg said she does not feel that’s she’s been heard and that those in the municipal government overseeing the Kids First program do not understand the challenges child care providers face.

“This entire process has been a joke,” she said Thursday as the kids enrolled in her program were napping in a Yellow Brick classroom. “Four days is a hard line for me because I am here 100 percent of the time and I need a day to run my business. … I am not a machine and I can’t work the way they want me to.”

Foster said the option was presented to Kuhlenberg and Ryan that the fifth day of each week could be covered by a different child care provider in the same space.

City officials and the Kids First Advisory Board are following Aspen City Council’s directive to maximize its child care capacity and increase opportunities to provide more options when possible.

And that means utilizing a city-owned building five days a week, according to government officials.

The advisory board, which is an all-citizen board that makes decisions about the sales tax-funded Kids First program on behalf of the city, voted last summer to change the lease for Aspen Playgroup and another provider, Aspen Mountain Tots.

Dawn Ryan, owner and director of Mountain Tots, has agreed to go from four days to five days a week starting Sept. 1, 2023, and is currently working with the city on amendments to her upcoming lease.

Kuhlenberg informed parents this past Saturday that she would be ending Aspen Playgroup in June as she has been unable to find another space.

“I understand the urgency that you all must feel to find continued care for your children and I support you in making those moves if you are offered spaces at other schools,” she wrote. “While I am incredibly sad to see anyone go, I know that it is unavoidable and I will do all I can to assist you.

“Finally, I would really appreciate not rehashing this further or speaking about it daily. It has been incredibly difficult and emotional, and every time it is brought up I am put in a very negative headspace. We all want to finish out the year on a positive note — focusing on your children and teaching.”

On Thursday, Kuhlenberg said it’s a sad situation.

“This has been shattering me for the last two months,” she said. “I’ve cried over this more than I want to admit. I am sad for my families and I am sad for the kids because they are the ones who ultimately will suffer.”

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