WESTCLIFFE, CO — The town of Westcliffe in Custer County now has its first-ever childcare center. On Friday, a grand opening was held at the Custer County Early Learning Center, in Westcliffe. They have spent the last two and a half years building the childcare center.
The building has three classrooms, one for toddlers, one for preschoolers, and another one for infants. There is an additional preschool classroom located in the Custer County school right next door. Lots of children's artwork, toys, paintbrushes, and bright color learning materials fill the building with a lively spirit.
The Director of Custer County Kids Council, Stacy Terrill the building was paid for by Federal and state COVID relief funds.
“The stimulus funding was put to good use,” Terrill said. “Because of those stimulus funding, this building that we are standing in, is paid for so there is no overhead cost,” Terrill said.
The Custer County Early Learning Center provides services for nearly 40 children around the ages of 5 weeks old to preschoolers.
“This classroom allowed us to offer full daycare. That was a huge need for our community,” Terrill said.
According to Terrill, Westcliffe is a childcare desert.
“More children in need of child care than actually slots available,” Terrill said.
She estimates with this new center they have tripled the amount of child care spots.
Both Terrill and Carolina Henderson, Director of Custer County Early Learning Center, said childcare has been an issue for a long time, but it got worse in the pandemic.
“There were only two family daycare providers and when COVID hit, they had to close, so the teacher had nowhere to bring their kids so the school had to close,” Henderson said.
The lack of childcare services forced grades kindergarten through 12 to transition to remote learning.
“So our previous superintendent had the idea, we need to have a learning center,” Henderson said.
Henderson said when building the center, they ran into some difficulties because of their rural location. She said when they needed a plumber or contractor to come from Pueblo or Colorado Springs. She said the center would have taken longer and been more difficult to finish if it weren't for the community's help.
“Without the ramp, they would not give us our license, so we are trying to find a contractor trying to find ways to build the ramp,” Henderson said.
They decided to ask some local students for help. Kids on the football team and in the shop class built the ramp for the center.
“Finally we said, the high school kids, we talked to the shop teacher, they came within the week and boom we had a ramp within a week,” Henderson said.
Henderson said they could not have done it without the support of the community, school district, neighboring town, and federal and state funding.
“We utilized those funds to the best of our ability and it's benefiting families now and families to come,” Terrill said.
Terrill said the next step is making a future sustainability plan so they can continue to pay for the center's staff.
The Director of the Colorado Department of Early Childhood, Dr Lisa Roy, visited the center on Friday. She said the three new classrooms are incredible.
“Well I've been hearing about this project in Westcliffe, I knew that there was limited childcare opportunity in the community for both Silver Cliff and Westcliffe, and I was told that stimulus dollars and other dollars were being used to build a new center,” Roy said. “It just was incredible to hear about it, but then I really saw it in action when I got here,” Roy said.
Roy said she visited a hospital in Grand Junction Colorado that recently opened a similar childcare center.
“It's just exciting to see communities come together with their own solutions and have the opportunity from various funding sources from the state to take it to the next level,” Roy said.
Roy said some Colorado towns, like WestCliffe, have done a fantastic job in responding to the needs of their community. She said the state has resources but does not have the expertise that the local community has.
“The local communities know what they need and when they need it, and so it's a beautiful thing to see when that all comes together,” Roy said.
On September 30th, the COVID-19 federal relief funding for childcare expired.
Both Terrill and Henderson said the expiration of the funding has not affected them in a drastic negative way yet. They used the funds on the building and they also received assistance from the Universal Preschool Program to help pay for the teacher in the two preschool classrooms.
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