Poised for Adventure: Child center to open soon

Phil Castle, The Business Times

Tawny Espinoza, left, chief development officer at Community Hospital, and Jennifer Knott, operator of Adventure Academy, expect a newly constructed early childhood education center will soon open on the hospital campus in Grand Junction. The 7,500-square-foot center is licensed to offer child care services to a total of 113 children ages 6 weeks to 6 years. (Business Times photo by Phil Castle)

Jennifer Knott and Tawny Espinoza lead an impromptu tour through the Adventure Academy. As they point out the features of the new Grand Junction facility, construction crews complete finishing touches and teachers set up classrooms.

The only thing missing for now at the early childhood education center is the children. But that’s an adventure of another sort Knott expects to begin within a couple of weeks.

Knott, the operator of Adventure Academy, and Espinoza, chief development officer at Community Hospital, can barely wait for the benefits they expect the facility and partnership between the hospital and center staff to provide. That includes child care services for employees at the nearby hospital as well as the role the center will play in addressing a child care shortage in Mesa County. That also includes the related contributions to economic development in creating 25 additional jobs and offering yet another attraction to health care professionals and others considering a move to the Grand Valley.

“It just benefits so many aspects of the community,” Knott says. “It’s just a win-win.”

Espinoza says the center represents an investment in hospital employees as well as the local workforce. “It’s understanding the entirety of the workforce and their needs.”

Chris Thomas, president and chief executive officer of Community Hospital, agreed. “We are thrilled to see this project come to fruition,” Thomas states in a news release. “High quality, affordable child care is essential to the well-being of our community, and Community Hospital is proud to champion this effort. We know that a lack of available child care impacts child care, and we are honored to be a part of the solution to help minimize the lack of available child care in Mesa County.”

The Adventure Academy is housed in a 7,500-square-foot building constructed on the Community Hospital campus. The facility includes eight classrooms and a commercial kitchen that will be used to prepare food onsite for children and staff.

The center will provide what Knott describes as a play-based curriculum in which children learn through hands-on experiences.

The center cost about $5 million. Community Hospital received $2 million in federal funding and $1 million in state funding to help pay for the project, Espinoza says. The hospital launched a capital campaign to raise the remainder, so no operational funds were used, she says.

Staff at the center work for the Adventure Academy, not the hospital.

Donations are still sought for the campaign. Under a Colorado program, donors receive a 50 percent state tax credit for their contributions.

The Adventure Academy is licensed to offer care for 113 children and is fully enrolled, Knott says. There’s a waiting list for openings.

Most of the slots were filled by hospital employees. But some slots were made available to the community, she says.

Moreover, the addition of 113 slots at the Adventure Academy frees up slots at other child care facilities, she says.

By one estimate, Mesa County needs 4,000 child care slots to meet the needs of the local work force.

Espinoza says the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated the importance of child care — especially for health care providers who didn’t have the option to work remotely.

The Adventure Academy offers hospital employees and others convenience and assurance their children are cared for while they’re working, Espinoza says. At the hospital, that will result in a more focused and productive work force, she says. “It translates into the taking care of our patients and the community.”

Knott says she’s excited for children to start using the early childhood education center and its new facilities. “We’re really proud of it.”

A public open house is set for 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sept. 16 as part of a grand opening celebration for the Adventure Academy in Grand Junction. The early childhood education center is located at 2373 Adventure Lane south of Community Hospital. For more information about the center, visit the website at https://adventureacademygj.com.