Serving some 60 children at the Head Start facility in Garland has hit a snag, with representatives from new grantee Telamon Corporation citing various building code issues preventing the center from being used and necessitating children be bussed to Roseboro until the proper repairs can be made.
The news blindsided Garland residents and caused an uproar from the town’s board members and parents, who questioned why the matter was not brought to the community’s attention earlier — parents said they never were contacted, which Telamon conceded was true — and what needed to be done to get the facility, located at the old high school building on Church Avenue, up and running.
The matter was discussed at length during a special meeting Thursday night. Following the meeting, another special session was slated for 2 p.m. Tuesday, July 31, so town officials, along with those from Telamon and former grantee Sampson County, could tour the current facility and discuss what steps were necessary to renovate the structure.
Telamon Corporation was awarded all Head Start services in Sampson County, effective July 1, after the county relinquished control of the program. That includes services for 417 children, including 72 Early Head start children (0 to 3 years old) and 345 Head Start children (ages 3 to 5). Early Head Start services will begin Aug. 1 and Head Start by Sept. 10.
“As it stands now, we do not have the funding necessary to outfit Garland to the standards in which we would be licensed to be able to provide high-quality services for the children,” Arvelis Byrd, director of Telamon, said at Thursday’s meeting. “What we have proposed is to use an alternate facility to be able to continue services for Head Start children at Charles E. Perry Elementary School.”
Byrd said the Garland children would continue to be served, but the facility, as it is right now, is not fit to continue services. She said there are holes in the walls, damaged playground equipment and a roach infestation. Byrd said there is some funding to be able to take care of some of the necessary renovations at the Garland facility, but she noted Telamon depends on “community support” to pick up the slack, whether it is monetary, labor or other in-kind donations.
“We know that facility was licensed under Sampson County government, but as a new agency coming in we would not be able to get that facility licensed as is, and the funding is not there to outfit that facility,” Byrd said. “We have funding to outfit it in terms of getting an exterminator and doing the playground. We need funding for a heating and air conditioning unit as well as the windows that have been broken out. We would definitely not be able to start services by September.”
As soon as the building was brought to code, Telamon officials said the children could come to Garland.
Commissioners expressed their ire with poor communication from Telamon.
“I am very much upset about this, because my mother was a Head Start teacher at this very center almost 25 years before she had a heart attack and had to take medical leave,” said Commissioner Mike Toler. “There have been a lot of kids go through that (center) those past 25 years. We lost our school and these kids are our future. You may have to do what you have to, but speaking for myself, I’m not happy at all about this.”
He was not the only one.
“I’m not mad about it — I’m furious,” said Commissioner Matthew Register. “I really am. It bothers me that as a town we’re trying to move forward, and one of the things we need is child care. It always seems like when stuff like this happens, everything rolls downhill in Garland, and we’re sick of it. It bothers me as a parent and as a citizen of Garland. I can promise you this, I’m going to call everybody I know in politics because this is wrong. It is wrong anyway you put it.”
The county ceded control of the Head Start program in a split vote in June 2011 after commissioners were told of the challenge to match the $2.1 million federal grant for 2012-13. The county agreed to serve as interim grantee for a period of up to a year as long as there were no out-of-pocket costs in county dollars. Raleigh-based Telamon Corporation was awarded the 2012-13 contract in May, taking over effective July 1.
Byrd said she did a walk-through of the Garland facility in March, but was unaware of the extent of the code issues until recently. She also said she believed the county owned the building, not Garland. Mayor Winifred Murphy, who walked through the building earlier Thursday, said the problems were “very visible,” but only now was Garland being informed, she noted.
“I think we all agree that we want our children in a safe, nurturing environment, without roaches and without the things we saw today,” said Murphy. “However, we’re concerned that this has kind of blindsided us. No one contacted us, so you were not aware that we owned the building, but this is our community. A community assessment was done, a grant was written, so you knew we were here — that there is a town of Garland, and our citizens and our children are our first priority. We need the services here for our children. This site needs to stay open, regardless of what it takes.”
Commissioner Ralph Smith said coming to Garland after the fact, not ahead of time, was “not very professional.” Parent Cynthia Murphy agreed, saying she and others were just now hearing the news.
“When were you going to let the parents know that they would no longer have the capability of bringing their kid to Garland Head Start?” she asked.
“That honestly slipped through the cracks,” Byrd replied. “That should have actually happened sooner. I take full responsibility for that. We did not send letters out to parents saying you would not be in Garland.”
Noel Martinez, consultant for Telamon, said the company was not awarded the grant until the end of May and no permission was granted before that time to move forward with the process of acquiring licenses. Not all of the requested funding was allocated either, he said. Martinez said Telamon understands that no one wants to bus their kids rather than having them at a local facility, and they were not walking away from the problem.
“We can say to you that as soon as we were able, with the permission of the federal government, to disclose this was our grant, we were immediately communicating. We followed due diligence, we are respecting the process and we are respecting your interests,” said Martinez. “You did not create the conditions of that building, nor we, nor the children, but somebody was administrating the facilities. We’re not blaming anyone, but we were not grandfathered into a license.”
The county operated the Head Start program for 37 years. Martinez said the facilities were in such a state that if checked prior to Telamon taking over, it would not have been re-licensed under federal standards. Byrd said as recent as a policy council meeting in June, Telamon was still planning on being in Garland.
“Sampson County government informed us that they were going to get the windows fixed, they were going to do the HVAC unit, they were going to do things over at Roseboro, all before June 30,” Byrd attested. “It wasn’t until after the grant closed out and they no longer had any obligation to do so, it was not done. I’m really trying to be mindful of not throwing them under the bus, but things were supposed to be done that were not done.”
‘Only way is community support’
Martinez said another option would be to get a license for a temporary facility in Garland while the town’s existing Head Start center was being repaired. Byrd implored time, talent and knowledge from the community, the kind of community resources Telamon is dependent on for success.
“The only way Head Start works is when individuals are working together,” Byrd said. “The only way we’re going to be able to get this building done is with community support. There’s no way we can do it on our own. If we can get this building going, I can guarantee you we will be in this Garland facility. We are not trying to move out of Garland.”
Like others, Cynthia Murphy said she did not want to see anything in Garland be shut down.
“I’m on the edge right now, because we don’t want anything in the Garland community to close. We are trying to building Garland up. We don’t want to see anything shut down at all,” said Murphy. “This is something that Garland should’ve known all along. We look for (our children) to get the best education possible. We don’t need to bus our 3 and 4 year olds.”
If community support was needed, Murphy and others said they are willing to do whatever it takes. That said, the matter should’ve been known far before July 26.
“The problem, and we keep going back to this, is timing,” said Register.
Toler agreed while also taking issue with the Sampson County Board of Commissioners.
“It doesn’t stop with just y’all,” said Toler. “The more that I sit here and listen to what’s going on, I also blame our county commissioners for allowing the building to get in that shape. Our county commissioners have let us down too.”
Martinez said it was about dealing with the situation. He suggested another walk-through of the facility, to bring everyone on the same page. Register said county officials, notably building inspector Myron Cashwell, should be on hand to assess the severity of the situation.
A walk-through was subsequently scheduled for 2 p.m. at the Garland Head Start, which is expected to be followed by a special meeting with town, county and Telamon officials in attendance.
“We are ready and willing,” said Martinez. “Everybody that would like to come see it, they should. You’ll see what we’re talking about. Please understand we’re not your enemy. We can be frustrated for a long time, but we don’t have to be frustrated if Tuesday comes around and we’re there and talking about how we can fix it. We can stop the frustration and get into the action.”
Martinez said the outcry was understandable, but was also a positive sign that Telamon would garner the community support representatives said they so desperately need. He also pledged communication, something that Garland residents noted they had yet to experience with the company.
“I can only assume that you’re going to have a great center here,” Martinez said. “This is the fire in the belly that is needed. From us, you’ll get communication and transparency. If we lose in Sampson, we will lose everywhere, because we would have to compete with other folks who want to take those grants. Based on the furious demonstration, the frustration, when you present the emotion you have for the history you have in that building, I know it will happen — but it needs to be up to quality for the children we are taking care of.”
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.