Durango announces partnership to relocate Tri-County Head Start (2024)

La Plata Economic Development Alliance receives $55,000 for child care needs assessment

Durango announces partnership to relocate Tri-County Head Start (1)

Durango resident Heather Haaland watches her son Myles Drinker, 3, swing while holding her baby Reece Drinker, 12 weeks, on June 26, at the playground in Three Springs. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

Jerry McBride

Durango announces partnership to relocate Tri-County Head Start (2)

Durango resident Heather Haaland watches her son Myles Drinker, 3, swing while holding her baby Reece Drinker, 12 weeks, on June 26, at the playground in Three Springs. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

Jerry McBride

Parents are no strangers to the ongoing struggle to find adequate child care, but the promise of new solutions could be peeking out from beyond the horizon.

Tri-County Head Start is getting a new facility, and the La Plata Economic Development Alliance received a Rural Economic Development Initiative Grant earlier this month to fund an assessment of area early child care needs.

The city of Durango is partnering with Tri-County Head Start to move the early child care provider into a new facility near Durango Public Library with much-needed upgrades.

Tri-County Head Start offers child care in Durango, Dolores, Cortez, Mancos and Pagosa Springs and provides early child care to income-eligible families.

Durango announces partnership to relocate Tri-County Head Start (3)

Lisa Stone, executive director of Tri-County Head Start, stands in front of the Durango location at 2019 East Third Ave., that it has leased from the city of Durango for the past 20 years. Head Start will move into a new facility, which will be built on the site of an underused parking lot across Third Avenue between East 19th and 20th streets. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

Jerry McBride

Durango announces partnership to relocate Tri-County Head Start (4)

Lisa Stone, executive director of Tri-County Head Start, stands in front of the Durango location at 2019 East Third Ave., that it has leased from the city of Durango for the past 20 years. Head Start will move into a new facility, which will be built on the site of an underused parking lot across Third Avenue between East 19th and 20th streets. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

Jerry McBride

Lisa Stone, executive director of Head Start, said Head Start has leased its current Durango office at 2019 East Third Ave. from the city for over 20 years. The facilities consist of a 100-year-old house and modular units.

“I always say we’ve put as much lipstick on these buildings as we can, but it’s really time to do something different,” she said on Wednesday.

Head Start will move into a new facility, which will be built on the site of an underused parking lot across Third Avenue between East 19th and 20th streets.

The partnership includes Reynolds Ash and Associates and Agave Group, according to the city.

The new Head Start facility will be able to host close to 80 children, according to the city.

Durango announces partnership to relocate Tri-County Head Start (5)

Once Head Start is moved, up to 22 workforce housing units are planned to be built at its current location. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

Jerry McBride

Durango announces partnership to relocate Tri-County Head Start (6)

Once Head Start is moved, up to 22 workforce housing units are planned to be built at its current location. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

Jerry McBride

Head Start has dealt with inadequate space at its current location for years, Stone said.

With the new facilities, “we can flex between toddler classrooms and preschool classrooms,” she said. “ … We’ll have all the support rooms.”

Head Start will have a gross motor room, or a room designed to stimulate children’s senses and encourage physical play, to give kids opportunities to be active when winter weather makes outside recesses impractical. Stone said the new facility will also have a teacher work room.

“It really allows us to have a design space that’s specific to child care in our Head Start program,” she said.

Durango Community Development Director Scott Shine said at a June 4 City Council study session that the public-private partnership between the city and Head Start is an “amazing” opportunity for the city to address child care needs and to make a positive impact on workforce housing.

Once Head Start is moved, the plan is to build up to 22 workforce housing units at its current location.

Durango announces partnership to relocate Tri-County Head Start (7)

Plans are in the works to move Tri-County Head Start located at 2019 East Third Ave. into a new facility to be built on the site of an underused parking lot across on Third Avenue between East 19th and 20th streets. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

Jerry McBride

Durango announces partnership to relocate Tri-County Head Start (8)

Plans are in the works to move Tri-County Head Start located at 2019 East Third Ave. into a new facility to be built on the site of an underused parking lot across on Third Avenue between East 19th and 20th streets. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

Jerry McBride

Shine said Head Start is pursuing grants to pay for the construction and site development. The city is simply leasing the land to be built on.

Neighboring property owners will be consulted about design of the units, he said.

“The overall concept is very exciting,” he said. “That’s exactly what we wanted to do when we put out the request for proposals, was get creative and sort of innovative ideas about how to use this property.”

Supporting Head Start is not the city’s only recent move toward supporting early child care options. In April, City Council submitted a grant application for $55,000 from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs on behalf of the La Plata Economic Development Alliance, which was awarded earlier this month.

The funding will support a study that will inform a “regional child care investment strategy” to fill present gaps in child care accessibility and challenges faced by centers across the county, according to city and child care leaders.

“Childcare is a very important need,” City Manager Jose Madrigal said in an email to The Durango Herald on Tuesday. “I have received comments from staff members about the need to have childcare services available at an affordable price. Recruiting and retaining staff is always a challenge, especially in the dynamic job environment that is happening not only in Durango but all over the state and nation.”

He also said providing or having access to child care services “will be critical in maintaining full staffing to provide services to the Citizens of Durango. The City of Durango wants to be an active partner in helping find solutions for childcare services in our community.”

City spokesman Tom Sluis said the city offers all-day programs and afterschool programs for children ages 5 to 15 through its Parks and Recreation GameTime Program.

“But it is not traditional child care that would be found in the private sector,” or operational hours from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, he said.

Parents struggling to access care worried about bills, their children’s development

Parents and child development professionals alike are feeling the economic pains of great demand for early child care and childhood education mismatched with weighty costs to families, interminable waitlists and nonstop turnover at centers.

Heather Hawk, executive director of the Early Childhood Council of La Plata County, told the Herald in March 2023 the turnover rate among 31 licensed childhood centers in the county was between 30% and 40%. That matches a trend established over the previous eight years and largely continues to this day.

The Good Food Collective, a branch of the La Plata Food Equity Coalition, has been a strong voice advocating for raising awareness of child care needs, with representatives appearing at recent City Council meetings seeking action from the city.

Tiffany Chacon, a Good Food Collective member and Latinx early child care and education specialist, said child care should be a key priority for the community because whether or not someone has children, the quality of care children receive comes back around to affect him or her.

Durango resident and mother of two Heather Haaland made several appearances during public comment periods at recent City Council meetings to ask for action.

She has two sons, a 3½-year-old turning 4 in September and a 12-week-old as of June 18.

Her oldest son is 13 days too young to be accepted into Durango School District 9-R’s universal preschool program this year, which opens the program to 4-year-olds and has a cutoff age date of Sept. 1.

She said because her son is technically too young to start preschool in the fall, she and her husband have to pay for another full year of child care, which is currently costing them nearly $2,900 a month for both of their children.

Haaland’s son, who’s in his second year of child care at the same center, is older than his peers. That makes Haaland worry about his development, she said.

“There are some kids that are not fully verbal, they don’t speak very much, and they use younger kid actions,” she said. “So there’s hitting and biting and kicking. He was starting to do those things when those younger kids were moving up, because that’s how they were communicating. So he was seeing that as like, ‘Oh, this is acceptable.’ And so I worry about things like that.”

She also worries for her son’s teacher, who carries a part-time job in addition to working as a full-time teacher just to make ends meet, she said.

“Olden days, you had schoolhouses with kids of multiple ages,” she said. “But if he’s the oldest and he only knows so much, what can the teacher do when the majority of the students are younger and you can only do so much with your curriculum? I’m afraid that it’s going to be really focused on the younger children,” she said.

Carolina Diaz, a Latinx immigrant who speaks Spanish as her first language and has two young daughters, finds herself in a similar position as Haaland.

Diaz has been trying to get her children into Head Start programming since 2020 and has remained wait-listed to no avail.

Speaking with the help of Lisa Rogers, a Durango-area interpreter with the Community Language Research Group from the La Plata Food Equity Coalition, Diaz said finding child care seems even more difficult for people who don’t speak English as their first language.

Diaz works for Compañeros: Four Corners Immigrant Resource Center remotely from her home office. Her children stay with her at home during the workday while her husband works two separate jobs to pay the bills. She said her daughters aren’t getting the attention they need, and it shows.

Her oldest daughter, who like Haaland’s oldest son is mere days too young to start preschool with Durango School District 9-R this fall, is exhibiting behavioral issues – causing mischief around the house – to get attention, Diaz said.

Early child care centers have become notorious for paying child development professionals and caregivers low wages in exchange for exhausting work. The arrangements often result in caregivers leaving for easier jobs with higher pay.

According to data collected in January 2023, 68% of child care programs reported vacancies. Hawk said child care centers are reporting the same pain points – demanding work for low wages.

When child care centers lose teachers and child development professionals, room for children in their programs naturally shrinks. The Early Childhood Council of La Plata County estimates about 2,100 children ages 0 to 5 in La Plata County need care, but there is only the capacity for about 80 infants and toddlers, or just 3.8% of the overall young child population.

Hawk said there are about 500 children in each “age band” – birth to 1 year old, 1 to 2 years old and 2 to 3 years old. Being able to provide care for 80 of 500 infants is a clear indicator of the low capacity of child care centers.

Some preschools have expanded their capacity for toddler care for 3- and 4-year-olds, she said.

Although there are not enough spaces in Bayfield and Ignacio programs, there are more spaces in Durango preschools this year than in recent years.

cburney@durangoherald.com

Durango announces partnership to relocate Tri-County Head Start (2024)
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