Little Bears Playhouse, in collaboration with other Girdwood non-profits, is seeking grant funding for building a new childcare and learning center to provide services and learning opportunities to the Girdwood valley. The current childcare building was built by volunteers in the 1960s and is now a municipally owned building. It became the preschool in 1982. The building has structural issues that have been identified by municipal engineers and is becoming increasingly dangerous, especially for children . The very small capacity is a limiting factor for Girdwood’s success, as the workforce can not go to work without adequate childcare. The project seeks to substantially increase capacity to meet our community’s needs and support Girdwood’s workforce in an overdue and meaningful way.
Little Bears Playhouse, a recognized 501(c)3, has been providing for childcare needs in Girdwood, Alaska for nearly 40 years. Alyeska Resort has partnered with Little Bears Playhouse to help solve this very critical issue. Alyeska is a central economic hub, employs over 700 employees and is very much connected to our overall economic success.
Alyeska is essentially giving Little Bears land, for the purpose of constructing this new facility. They have offered a 99-year lease at $1/year in rent to Little Bears. Alyeska’s owners and managers understand the need their employees have for childcare, as well as the community at large. Land in Girdwood is notoriously expensive, and Little Bears Playhouse Board of Directors is overjoyed with this potential partnership and community commitment which Alyeska is exhibiting.
Girdwood, Alaska has been hit particularly hard during the recent COVID 19 pandemic. Much of Girdwood is dependent on tourism and hospitality. The economy was essentially shut off, just prior to the height of peak tourism seasons. Girdwood saw restaurants shut down and nearly empty accommodations. It also saw the temporary closure of Girdwood’s only full-time licensed childcare facility, Little Bears Playhouse. Many of Girdwood’s residents are service workers and are desperately in need of dependable, consistent, and safe care for the children. During the height of the pandemic, there were examples of essential workers transporting their children into Anchorage for childcare. This really drove home the need for our community to be more self-sufficient and the understanding that commuting 4 hours a day to utilize childcare is a dead end.
Background in funding efforts:
In April 2020, nearly 80% of the Girdwood Valley Service Area voters supported self-taxation to fund a new childcare facility. The residents understood the dire condition of the current building, along with under met demand and capacity constraints. Unfortunately, with not enough Anchorage voters understanding the bond would be solely paid for by Girdwood homeowners, the bond did not pass at an area-wide level and ultimately failed. This proposed building would have only replaced the existing building with a minimal impact on increasing capacity. After 12 years of effort, Little Bears was back to square one in their goal of realizing a new building. Thankfully, Alyeska stepped forward with a new location and potential for increased capacity to better meet the community’s demand. With the new partnership in place, there was an effort to secure CARES Act funds for the new larger facility, but we did not receive funding. We are hopeful in seeking American Relief Plan Act funds to tackle this much needed and overdue issue.
$6.1M – This budget covers all construction, site development, permitting, inspections, general contracting and project management. This number has been updated 4/2021 to reflect the most current site development estimate and increased costs of materials, especially lumber, due to impacts of COVID-19.
Status and Support:
Since April 2020, a childcare community needs assessment survey was conducted as well as planning, budgeting, and presentations. In July 2020, Girdwood Board of Supervisors wrote a letter of support of the childcare facility along with any grant funding which may be available. In September 2020, the conceptual project passed at Girdwood Land Use Committee by unanimous vote and ultimately received a letter of support from Girdwood Board of Supervisors for the proposed location. This project would be well received by the community of Girdwood and has demonstrated great support by going through the public meeting process. We are ready to proceed with this project without delay.
Project Specific Elements:
1.) Little Bears has been working with Z Architects on the design. The selected design can easily scale up by adding additional classrooms/wing to increase capacity. This building has already been constructed in the Mat-Su valley as a Waldorf Preschool and has undergone full engineering. Z Architects has walked the site with Little Bears board members and created a site plan. Alyeska dug test holes in 3 locations to verify bedrock locations. Little Bears paid for a topographic survey of the lot and Z Architects verified the suggested site plan will work in the proposed location. Utilities are located at the nearby “Pump House.” Water, sewer and electric all close by saves on development expenses. Road access off of a main road, minimizes neighborhood traffic impacts.
Conceptual Playground design:
Alyeska Prince Addition Tract C:
– Zoned GRST2 – Childcare Conditionally Permitted
– Memorandum of Understanding between Pomeroy/Alyeska Resort & Little Bears Playhouse. 99 year lease at $1/year.
Proposed Site Plan:
Proposed winner creek extension re-route:
The trail will become an integrated part of the childcare facility as an interpretive play trail. We will incorporate at least 4 learning and playing stations with Girdwood-centric themes such as 1.) Alaska Native Culture 2.) Mining history 3.) Glaciers 4.) Animals/Rain forest. Each station will include a feature to climb on/go inside/interact with along with educational signage geared toward children.
For many working parents to return to work, a safe place for their children is the first critical element. We must solve this issue in Girdwood for its near-term safety reasons, equitable solutions for Girdwood’s workforce and long term success as a thriving community. Little Bears Playhouse seeks this new building to better implement their mission statement “to provide a safe, caring environment that promotes sound emotional, social, cognitive and physical development of children while strengthening and encouraging positive relationships among childcare professionals, families and our community.”
Design Plans – Updated 3/2021 with topographic layer
Community Members – Letters of Support:
Partners in this Project:
Z Architects – Girdwood, AK
Marco Zacarro – Lead
Chris Chiei – Experienced in School Design – Previous Projects Include:
– Napaskiak K-12 School (design through construction admin)
– Little Diomede School (renovation design through construction admin)
– Pilot Station K-12 School (design through construction admin)
– Ayaprun School 1-6th grade Yupik Immersion Program (design)
– UAA Day Care (concept planning)
Slana Surveys – Topographic Survey