Girdwood Workforce & First Responder CARES Act Childcare Project

Executive Summary:

Little Bears Playhouse, a recognized 501(c)3, has been providing childcare services in Girdwood Alaska for nearly 40 years. The current facility is in disrepair and becoming increasingly unsafe. Physical distancing and COVID-19 public health measures are virtually impossible within the current building. Girdwood has become a destination location for tourists and has traditionally been recognized as an economic engine for the state. The tourism industry has been hit extremely hard and this has had a debilitating effect on service workers, who make up a large percentage of Girdwood’s population. This project would utilize CARES Act funds to construct a new childcare and distance learning space which would serve the residents of Girdwood, with full-time first responder parents as a priority (i.e – Girdwood Fire Department, Whittier Police Department, etc.), employees of Alyeska Resort, and others needing childcare services. The proposed project meets the September 2nd 2020 U.S. Treasury Guidance for using CARES Act funding, per the following:

“Expenses of actions to facilitate compliance with COVID-19-related public health measures,

Expenses to facilitate distance learning, including technological improvements, in connection with school closings to enable compliance with COVID-19 precautions.

Expenses associated with the provision of economic support in connection with the COVID-19 public health emergency,

Any other COVID-19-related expenses reasonably necessary to the function of government that satisfy the Fund’s eligibility criteria.”

Little Bears Playhouse has partnered with Pomeroy Lodging, the owner of Alyeska Resort, for this project. Alyeska is Alaska’s largest destination resort, a key regional employer with 700 employees and is very much connected to Alaska’s economic recovery from the pandemic.  This project will provide critical current and future capacity and provide needed space to meet compliance with COVID-19 related public health measures.

Pomeroy Lodging is essentially giving the childcare center land for the purpose of constructing this new facility by  offering a 99-year lease at $1/year in rent for the center. Alyeska’s owners and managers understand the need their employees have for childcare, as well as the needs of the community at large, for this public/private partnership.

Community Impact:

Many of Girdwood’s residents are service workers and are desperately in need of dependable, consistent, and safe care for their children.  During the height of the pandemic, medical professionals at the only healthcare facility, Girdwood Health Clinic, were transporting children into Anchorage for care. There is tremendous community support for this project and is critical to Girdwood’s economic recovery. Without a safe space for children to be, service worker parents will be unable to return to work.

Financial Request:

$4.7M – Project Total, includes:

$700,000 – Sitework/Development of Alyeska Prince Addition Tract C

$4,000,000 – Construction Costs, permitting, inspections, general contracting, and project management.

Background:

The current childcare building was built by volunteers in the 1960s and is now a municipally owned building. It has structural issues that have been identified by municipal engineers and is at the end of its useful life. In April, 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. The vote occurred just weeks after the pandemic set in. 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, as well as improve the non-profit’s ability to be more financially self-sufficient.

Status and Support:

Since April, a childcare community needs assessment survey was conducted as well as planning, budgeting, and community presentations. In July, Girdwood Board of Supervisors wrote a letter of support for funding the childcare facility with CARES Act funding. In September, the conceptual project passed at Girdwood Land Use by unanimous vote and a letter of support was obtained 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 having already gone through the public meeting process. Many letters of support from a wide array of community members are available for review. Girdwood is ready to proceed on this project without delay.


Design:

1.) Preferred Design: Z Architects – 2 story Design – Can easily scale up by adding additional classrooms. This building has already been constructed in the Mat-Su valley and has undergone full engineering. Z Architects has walked the property with Little Bears board members and has created a site plan. Utilities are located at the Pump House. Water, sewer and electric all very close by saves with development expenses. Road access off on a main road, minimizes neighborhood traffic impacts.

conceptual Playground design:
Location:

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.

Site Plan:
Proposed winner creek extension re-route:

The trail will become on integrated part of the childcare facility as an interpretive 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.

Background:

A lack of adequate childcare has emerged across the country as a key challenge for community first responders, and that situation has been exacerbated in Girdwood by the public health mandates forcing a temporary closure of Little Bears Playhouse. Little Bears has provided quality, licensed childcare services in the valley for nearly 40 years. Little Bears staff did not believe they had the capacity to operate under the public health suggested guidelines and closed from mid-March to June 1.

As the only full-time licensed childcare operation in Girdwood, the facility is essential, especially to support parents who are healthcare providers and first responders. Little Bears Playhouse, Inc. Board of Directors is supportive of this CARES Act request and seeking to meet the demand for childcare in our community. The organization has committed to creating a “First Responder/Healthcare Parent Priority Policy” should the non-profit utilize a new proposed building, whereby children of first responders/healthcare workers would have preference for services rendered at the facility. The proposed facility would also include a designated space for those opting to participate in distance learning programs, consistent with US Treasury Guidelines.

Little Bears currently operates in an extremely dated building with many defects. Roof leaks are not uncommon. Roof snow over 3” must be removed immediately to avoid a possible collapse, per requirement from the Municipality of Anchorage. Currently, Little Bears Playhouse, Inc. is the only non-profit utilizing the deteriorating public building.  No other existing Girdwood building has been identified as a suitable replacement for childcare.

During the daycare closure, the COVID crisis provided examples of Girdwood Health Clinic employees taking their children into Anchorage for childcare, returning to Girdwood for work, driving back to Anchorage to pick up children and finally returning home to Girdwood. This is an unrealistic and nearly impossible expectation of most Girdwood working parents. It specifically emphasized the unquestionable need for first-responder childcare being locally available in a safe environment.

Conclusion:

For many working parents to return to work, a safe place for children in a COVID-threatened environment is essential, especially for healthcare and first-responder parents. Our goal is to procure funds from CARES Act, any other possible grant opportunities, traditional or non-conventional financing if required. Little Bears Playhouse seeks this new building to better implement our 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.”