CSU families have priority at new Sunshine House child care location

Sunshine House West exterior

The new Sunshine House location at Shields and Lake streets is now accepting children from 6 weeks to 12 years old. Photo courtesy Sunshine House.

If the last six months of stay-at-home orders have taught us anything, it’s the necessity of quality child care for working parents. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, parents in Fort Collins faced a shortage of available spaces, with wait lists common. Colorado State University employees and students, as well as the entire community, now have another option with the opening of the third Sunshine House in town.

The new location at the northeast corner of Lake and Shields streets opened Aug. 3 and is licensed for 159 children ages 6 weeks to 12 years. Through a partnership between the independently owned Sunshine House and CSU, which owns the land, and the CSU Research Foundation, which built the facility and is leasing it to the Sunshine House, anyone affiliated with CSU is offered “most-favored customer” status.

“That means CSU employees and students enjoy priority enrollment when space is available,” explained Jerod Mann, vice president of development and operational support for Sunshine House. “We don’t have a wait list right now, but we expect the places to fill quickly.”

In the era of COVID-19, Sunshine House is offering full-day and part-day in-person e-Learning and Virtual Learning programs to help facilitate distance learning programs for children 5 to 12 years old.

Long relationship

The history of child care for university employees stretches back to the early 1990s and a collaboration between the departments of Housing and Food Sciences and Human Development and Family Studies. The University Children’s Center opened on Lake Street in 1998, with the mission of providing year-round child care to faculty, staff and students. South Carolina-based Sunshine House, which owns more than 140 facilities in nine states, took over that program in 2007.

In 2012, when campus improvement plans called for the rebuilding of the Aggie Village apartments on Lake Street where the program was located, it was clear Sunshine House would need a new facility. That’s when CSURF stepped in, according to Rick Callan, senior real estate analyst.

“We owned some land that was reserved for future development off Centre Avenue, between the main CSU campus and the Veterinary Teaching Hospital,” he said. “We entered into a build-to-suit lease-back arrangement that allowed Sunshine House to relocate without delay, with a greater capacity, and keep their programs affordable.”

That center, serving children up to 5 years old, opened in 2014, and was an instant hit with CSU families. It opened with a 200-family wait list for its licensed 145 slots, while demand continued to increase throughout Fort Collins.

In light of the obvious need, CSU Vice President for Operations Lynn Johnson asked if CSURF could find a site near campus for another child care center. Callan and the CSURF Real Estate team put together a plan for the Lake and Shields parcel and did their due diligence soliciting interest from other service providers, but found Sunshine House the only company willing to work on a similar lease-back arrangement. Construction on the new facility began August 2019.

“Child care is a topic that is top of mind for our CSU parents, and I am very pleased that CSU is able to partner, once again, with the Sunshine House to provide child care services to our CSU families,” said Johnson. “The proximity of this facility to the campus couldn’t be better. With access being so close, CSU parents can easily stop by to visit their children for lunch or join in on a scheduled social activity.”

“Child care is a topic that is top of mind for our CSU parents, and I am very pleased that CSU is able to partner, once again, with the Sunshine House to provide child care services to our CSU families.”

— CSU Vice President for Operations Lynn Johnson

The new Sunshine House location, on the west side of CSU’s main campus, offers priority enrollment for university-affiliated families but is open to all children in Fort Collins. The company also opened another new facility in southeast Fort Collins in Bucking Horse near Jessup Farms in July that serves children up to 12 years old but does not have a special arrangement with CSU.

“We hope by offering most favored status to CSU parents at this new facility, we can also help take some of the pressure off other child care providers in Fort Collins, opening slots for other parents in need of services,” Callan said.

Opportunities for CSU students

In addition to convenient child care, Sunshine House offers opportunities for students in the early childhood education program at CSU to gain hands-on experience.

“One of the things we really enjoy about partnering with CSU is that we can work with and hire the skilled students and graduates of the ECE program,” said Barbra Anderson-Richardson, chief branding officer for Sunshine House. “We’re happy that our programs and our families can benefit from their expertise.”

The Department of Human Development and Family Studies also offers priority enrollment child care options for children up to 6 years old at the Early Childhood Center in the historic Washington School at Shields Street and Akin Avenue.

For more information about the new Sunshine House, go to www.sunshinehouse.com/csu-west.

For information about programs at the Washington School and other child care options offered through CSU’s Commitment to Campus program, go to commitmenttocampus.colostate.edu.