River Mist Preschool wants to expand its facilities to meet the demand for child care services in La Plata County.
The nonprofit school is currently licensed to accept 25 children. It serves 16 preschoolers between the ages of 3 and 5, and nine toddlers between the ages of 1 and 3.
Executive Director Jennifer Tew said it is difficult to turn away prospective families.
“I get a lot of calls where parents say they accepted a great job in Durango, but had no idea it would be so hard to find child care,” she said. “They need child care in a week, but I cannot get them into the school for at least six months. It is heartbreaking.”
According to the annual “Kids Count in Colorado” report, which tracks child well-being at the state and county levels, there are enough slots for only 40 percent of La Plata County children who could be enrolled in child care. The shortage in care is driven in part because early childhood teachers can make more money in other fields, said Heather Hawk, executive director of the Early Childhood Council of La Plata County.
River Mist Preschool sits on 4 acres of land east of Durango on County Road 225. The Florida River runs adjacent to the school, and there is an apple orchard on the property.
Tew said the school’s location factors significantly into its nature-based curriculum.
“We spend a lot of time outside,” she said. “We have an extremely large garden, and we use our environment to teach the children. A lot of our science evolves around the ecosystem of the river.”
The school’s goal is to expand to include 75 students.
To do so, Tew said the school needs to raise a minimum of $500,000 over the next two years.
“That money would cover construction for bare-bones classrooms,” she said. “We would need flooring and other things donated from businesses.”
Tew said the school board will research grant and foundation cycles to begin applying for the money it needs to start construction.
“We have plenty of land and water,” she said. “There is a lot of room to build, but we need the capital.”
The school is also accepting donations from the public.
“We will take a donation and be very grateful for it,” Tew said. “Realistically, we probably won’t be able to build classrooms with just donations, though.”
If River Mist falls short of its fundraising goal, it will look at other options to expand, such as adding a modular building to the property.
“We absolutely will expand, but how much we can expand depends on how much we can raise,” Tew said.
She said the nonprofit also needs additional community members to be part of its board of directors.
“We are trying to build up our board with more people from the community,” she said. “My board is mostly ex-parents and current parents. We are looking for community members who believe in this mission to join our board.”
To donate money or join the board, email Tew at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.