As the town of Garland weighs its options regarding a vacated school building that once housed the Head Start program, new grantee Telamon Corporation is still transitioning into Sampson County — that includes bussing children from the southern end of the county.
Telamon director Arvelis Byrd said the transition was positive, albeit with some bussing situations being faced. With the number of children served in Garland now having to be brought to other sites, notably Union Elementary and the Charles E. Perry building, there has been a need for double routes.
“It’s been going well,” said Byrd. “Of course, with any transition, you try to make sure everything goes as well as possible.”
Telamon Corporation was awarded all Head Start services in Sampson County, effective July 1, after the county relinquished control of the program. Early Head Start services began in August, and Head Start followed in September. During the switch-over, the Garland site hit a snag.
It was officially announced in August that 3- and 4-year-old Head Start children would be bussed to Charles E. Perry in Roseboro or Union Elementary School until the Garland facility received the work needed to pass inspection, and be licensed for Head Start services. Telamon officials have since said the doors to the Garland facility would not be opened at all this year, further necessitating the need for a transportation plan.
Garland board members and parents were first informed of the possibility children would be bussed to Roseboro or the Union School district because of the building’s condition at the end of July. Town officials expressed their extreme dissatisfaction with the news.
Parents shared initial concerns with putting their young children on buses — now some are saying those routes are simply too long.
Telamon executive director Richard Joanis has pointed to federal requirements that prohibit young children from being on buses for long periods of time, so in order to meet those mandates, he said multiple buses may be needed to get youngsters from Garland, Harrells, Ivanhoe, Ingold and other areas to Head Start facilities at Union Elementary or Charles E. Perry in Roseboro.
Byrd said developing bus routes, and modifying and improving them, was an ongoing process.
“We have developed bus routes and we’re trying to work those out,” said Byrd.
She said keeping those routes under an hour was the goal. Sampson’s rural characteristics make it difficult, however it is a federal rule to make such bus trips less than 60 minutes “whenever possible, to the best of your ability,” she noted.
“Since they are rural areas, that may not allow for that to be under one hour,” said Byrd. “In some areas, because they are so rural, we had to do some double routes. Children in that area may be so spread out one house to another house, so we had to do double routes so they are not on the bus waiting for us to pick up everyone. There may be more than one route for a particular area.”
The grant Telamon received remained unchanged in relation to what the county was serving — 417 total children, to include 345 Head Start and 72 Early Head Start children. Byrd said, though, that the total number of students changes depending on vacancies.
“It fluctutates,” she said. “We have 30 days to fill vacancies. To say we serve 417 students right now would not be accurate, because we do have vacancies and we have 30 days to fill those vacancies.”
As transportation is worked out within the current Head Start, a town that long hosted the program will be looking at options for the future.
Telamon officials previously elaborated on the extensiveness of the renovations needed at the Garland site, and the bidding and funding process that would have to be navigated before getting to a point where any construction could take place.
An environmental assessment revealed the presence of both lead paint and asbestos, and additional repairs to the HVAC system, windows, playground equipment, exposed pipes and chipped paint were cited as other areas that needed attention to bring the building up to code. Joanis said those items would require additional funding that was simply not available.
Telamon has cited a ballpark figure of $200,000, which could actually be much more, but a more concrete figure would not be known until a project was bid.
Garland mayor Winifred Murphy recently spoke with representatives from Telamon, the Office of Head Start, the N.C. Department of Public Instruction and Congressman Mike McIntyre’s office in an attempt to share her own concerns about Head Start leaving Garland.
“I wasn’t trying to change anything for this year, but just trying to move forward,” Murphy said. “I tried not to go back into the negative. I’m still not happy with the situation, but we’re trying to move forward.”
Murphy was asked if she wanted to participate in an upcoming community assessment to be conducted by Telamon. She said she would likely allow someone from the community to serve in her place as an advocate for local children. “I think I need to back off at this point,” the mayor said, “because it takes a lot of effort when the town has other priorities too.”
She has talked with county building inspector Myron Cashwell about giving the Head Start building another look. There has been general talk of the structure’s potential use as a community center down the line, but code issues would need to be taken care of.
“I think it’s all on us at this point,” said Murphy. “We need to look at the lead paint and asbestos (reports) and get someone in here to see what the cost would be. Neither of those reports had any cost numbers and we would like to see how much it would cost. There are a lot of grants that could help us, like a Building Reuse Grant, and we need to look into those.”
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at email@example.com.