Parents coo over infant care expansion |

Parents coo over infant care expansion

Kara Williams
Special to the Post Independent

At least a handful of mid-valley parents will breathe a sigh of relief when Blue Lake Preschool starts caring for infants in the next few weeks.

“We’re just waiting for the infant room to open,” said Stephanie Childree, mother of Ethan, 3, who attends the preschool full time, and baby Tori, three-and-a-half months.

Blue Lake Preschool, located in a residential subdivision of the same name along Highway 82 just west of El Jebel, was one of five preschools to receive grants from the Garfield County Department of Social Services last week.

Other schools that received infant-care grants from Garfield County are: Our School, Glenwood Springs; Yampah Mountain/BOCES, Glenwood Springs; CMC Even Start, Glenwood and Rifle; and Summit Preschool in Rifle.

Blue Lake received $4,500 from Garfield County for creating a new infant room. The child care center has also received $15,000 from Eagle County Health and Human Services and $4,000 from Aspen Valley Community Foundation for start-up expenses and first-year general operating costs.

“These organizations recognize the huge community need for infant care,” said Michelle Oger, Blue Lake Preschool director.

State licensing laws require a maximum of a 5-1 infant-to-teacher ratio for child care centers, and the National Association for the Education of Young Children recommends a 4-1 ratio.

“It’s just so expensive for child care centers to have infants,” said Lynn Renick, director of the Garfield County Department of Social Services.

Daily fees for infants barely cover teacher salaries and other operating costs, she said.

“Centers need to have large preschool populations to offset the high cost of caring for infants,” Renick said.

Maximum student-to-teacher ratios for licensed child care centers are 10-to-1 for 3-year-olds, 12-to-1 for 5-year-olds and 15-to-1 for 5-year-olds.

When Buddies Preschool in El Jebel closed in October on short notice, there were no longer any licensed center-based child care programs serving children under age 1 in the mid-valley, according to Shirley Ritter, director of Kids First, a child care resource and referral agency with offices in Aspen and Glenwood Springs.

Parents like Childree, who lives in Aspen Junction and works full time at Basalt’s Alpine Medical Group, had to scramble for child care.

Blue Lake had a spot for her son Ethan, but Tori, who was scheduled to enter Buddies’ infant room in January, is now in the care of a baby-sitter at the Childrees’ home.

“That costs me a lot more than day care,” said Childree.

Blue Lake Preschool leases its space from the Blue Lake homeowners association community building.

Pending final approval from the association to turn a downstairs office into an infant room, Blue Lake plans to open its doors to babies in the next few weeks, according to Oger.

Two full-time teachers will care for eight infants in the new room. But the eight spots are, in effect, already full.

“We have 10 parents on the waiting list, without any advertising,” said Oger.

The monthly cost for infants averages out to $45 a day. The infant room will be open Monday to Friday, 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Blue Lake Preschool is also licensed to care for 10 toddlers and 31 children aged 2 1/2 to 5.

Contact Kara Williams: 945-8515, ext. 535

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