The new preschool in Willits will likely resemble Blue Lake Preschool's recent renovation in Carbondale. Courtesy photo

The necessary quorum of four out of seven Basalt town councilors were present at Tuesday night’s regular meeting and dispatched their agenda in an hour. Mayor pro tem Ryan Slack filled in for Mayor Bill Kane, who was absent.

Three conceptual designs by Land+Shelter in Carbondale and Denver-based Alan Ford Architects were presented for the child development center on Parcel 2E next to The Arts Campus at Willits. Basalt Town Engineer Catherine Christoff told council members that the schematics were submitted at this stage to get “initial council feedback,” and no action was necessary.

The first option is for a one-story early childhood education center (ECE) with seven classrooms for infants, toddlers, preschoolers and an after-school program for elementary age children, said Land+Shelter owner Andrea Korber. She estimated its cost would be $9.5 million. It would not include any staff housing. The second option is a two-story ECE with seven classrooms and a detached two-story building for four housing units. The cost would be $12 million. Option three is a one-story building with eight classrooms and three housing units for a cost of $13.2 million.

Depending on which design is chosen, the ECE would be able to care for between 143 and 155 children, five days a week. An important element in all three schematics would be “bringing flora and fauna into the school, to connect indoor and outdoor spaces,” said Korber.

Alan Ford told the council that if option two or three are chosen to provide staff housing, these could be phased in later.

The timeline for this “very large project,” is two to three years, according to Blue Lake Preschool Executive Director Michelle Oger, who would run the Willits ECE. Oger said that she prefers the first option because it would be a good fit for the adjacent residential neighborhood, and is less daunting from a cost standpoint. She said that the capital campaign would seek state grants and private donors in the Roaring Fork Valley who understand how important ECE is in preparing children for kindergarten. Councilor Ryan Slack advised that Oger “keep all three options open,” because the three councilors who were missing would want to weigh in.

“I am absolutely thrilled we are having this conversation,” said councilor Dieter Schindler. Building a mid-valley ECE has been on Basalt Town Council’s to-do list since 2006. With the project at the conceptual planning stage, “there is hope on the horizon,” he said.

In other business, Town Council unanimously approved a motion to decline participating in the Colorado Paid Family Medical Leave Insurance Program (FAMLI). FAMLI was approved by Colorado voters in the November 2020 election to give employees 12 weeks of paid leave for pregnancy, childbirth, serious illness or family emergencies. Municipalities could opt in or out of the program after giving employees a chance to decide if they wanted to participate. The cost-sharing program would subtract .45% from their gross biweekly wage, said Basalt Finance Director Christie Chicoine.

She said that after notifying town employees she hadn’t heard back from any; at Tuesday’s public hearing portion no employees spoke. Basalt Town Attorney Jeff Conklin said that most municipalities have opted out of FAMLI because they already provide adequate coverage.

Councilors interviewed and appointed Charlie Eckart and Mike Steiner to the Basalt Green Team. Councilors also recognized Green Team member Gerry Terwilliger’s many years of environmentally-minded service to Basalt and presented him with a certificate, followed by a standing ovation.