Though Durango’s shortage of child care remains acute, on Thursday, U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., announced it might get less stubborn, as Durango’s Riverhouse Children’s Center was approved for a $1.2 million loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development Office.
According to a news release from Bennet’s office, the loan will be used to construct a two-story, 6,396-square-foot building, three playgrounds for prekindergarten children, infants and toddlers and an 18-stall parking area on a 1.5-acre vacant parcel.
“Expanded services will help address the local day care shortage, including in the high-need area of kids from birth to age 2. Riverhouse currently has a wait list of 75 families,” the release said.
Kim Barker, Riverhouse board president, said the loan would impact the children of La Plata County for years, provide additional employment opportunities, and expand services to more families.
“An investment in high-quality early-childhood care and education has far-reaching social and economic benefits including increased workforce productivity, reduction in welfare programs, ensuring kindergarten readiness, and setting the stage for a lifetime of learning and success,” Barker said.
According to the National Women’s Law Center, Colorado had 5,205 children on county waiting lists for child care assistance as of February 2011 and expected the waiting lists to increase.
“This project is good news for kids and families – especially at-risk kids – in the Durango area,” Bennet said. “It’s a great example of how local, private-public partnerships can move the community forward.”
Statistics show the shortage of day care in Durango and La Plata County is severe.
Mercy Regional Medical Center’s Nathan Schmidt said in 2011, the hospital delivered 891 babies.
While some of those 891 babies returned to Farmington or elsewhere, almost half remained in Durango, and the decisive majority still dwells in the county. Extrapolating from the number of babies born at Mercy in 2011, it is likely that in La Plata County, there are more than 3,000 babies, infants and children too young to attend school.
But only 22 child care centers are listed in the Directory Plus phonebook – a ratio of 150 children to every one child care facility.
Most local child care centers have a capacity of fewer than 40 children.
Child care providers, parents and activists characterize Durango’s lack of child care as a problem that has reached alarming proportions.
The Durango Early Learning Center isn’t even taking people on its waiting list. Stacy Zimmerman, director of Children’s House of Durango, said she opens up her list May 1 – and “the 3-year-old list fills up within two or three hours.”
Consultant Martha McClellan said that for parents, the lack of child care is “terribly frustrating.” She added, “One parent I talked to called it ‘a rigmarole.’ By the time her child got in off the wait list, she was old enough for public school.”
Jennifer Delilah Tew, owner of River Mist Preschool, which cares for 25 children a day, said while she currently has openings, “come Aug. 20th, I’ll be completely full.”
Tew said she welcomed the $1.2 million loan to Riverhouse Children’s Center.
“It’s a feminist issue, for sure, because usually the responsibility falls on women, but it’s a male issue, as well – especially when you think about single moms and single dads, and trying to make it on a single income,” she said. “I don’t see other schools as competition. Good day care is beneficial to everyone.”