GARLAND — Telamon Corporation said Garland will not be a site for Head Start services by the Sept. 10 start of the program year, with a missive sent from the agency’s director to the town’s mayor this week citing repairs in excess of $200,000 and taking off the table the option of placing modular units on vacant property in the interim.
Following a couple weeks of back-and-forth between Garland officials and Telamon on the status of the Garland Head Start building, including a facility walkthrough and a pair of special meetings, town officials met with Telamon property coordinator Bill Buckner last week to look at three pieces of property owned by the town as possible sites for modular units.
Telamon representatives have maintained that the facility is in dire need of renovations, time-consuming and costly repairs that would not be made in time for children to be served at the Garland site. The 3- and 4-year-old Head Start children would have to be bussed to Roseboro or Union until the facility received the work needed to pass inspection, and be licensed for Head Start services, Telamon said.
Town officials suggested modular units in the meantime, an alternative Buckner looked into last week. He said Telamon would get back in contact with the town.
That response came by email Monday.
Mayor Winifred Murphy read the email, sent to her from state Head Start director Arvelis Byrd, to those in attendance at Tuesday’s regular town meeting.
Byrd said “pre-award findings” of problems with the Garland site’s HVAC system, windows, playground equipment, exposed pipes and chipped paint, had now been augmented with scheduled fire and county inspections, as well as an environmental assessment contractor. As of Monday, Telamon had received preliminary reports on repairs required to bring the building up to code in those areas. An environmental assessment was to take place Wednesday, with results available in the near future.
“As we have indicated in other conversations, these reports will give us a baseline to go forward with the bidding process,” Byrd stated in her email. “The environmental assessment is a critical element in the process due to the age of the facility, but at this time, our experience with these types of retrofits estimates project costs in excess of $200,000.”
Byrd said Telamon representatives discussed with the Office of Head Start the possibility of transporting available modular units from other county locations to Garland.
“OHS has discouraged us from doing so and expects that we would not propose such a plan to them,” said Byrd. “But, in any case, getting a facility ready for, and licensed to provide, services to children in Garland is not foreseen as a possibility by Sept. 10, our first day of programming in Sampson County for this program year.”
Garland town officials have pledged in recent weeks to do whatever they could to keep Head Start services in Garland, where 61 children were served last year. Murphy even took the town’s plight to the Sampson County Board of Commissioners last week.
She said nixing Garland as a Head Start site would be detrimental to the town and its community — she asked the county, as the longtime Head Start grantee before relinquishing it officially June 30, to stand with the town in support.
“We’re sitting there with very limited resources, no parks, no schools, and it just feels like we’re being neglected,” said Murphy, citing Garland’s 40 percent poverty level. “We want to try and resolve this without moving our 3 and 4 year olds to different places because their parents have limited transportation. We want to make sure our children are served in our community.”
Murphy said she was shocked upon being notified for the first time last month that the Garland facility was not up to standard and it would cost too much money to get it up to code by September.
Byrd and other Telamon officials attended a July 26 special meeting, at which furious Garland board members and parents were told their children would be bussed to Roseboro or the Union School district because of the building’s current condition. Following a facility walkthrough less than a week later, Telamon executive director Richard Joanis reiterated that the company had not decided to close the doors in Garland, but they would not be opened by September.
He cited inspections, repairs and licensing that still needed to be done before any facility could open to children. No concrete numbers could be given as to what it would cost to make repairs at that time as the exact renovations needed were not known because inspections had not yet taken place. Town board members chided Telamon for lack of communication with the town and parents, and doing little legwork before making the decision to close the Garland operation.
In her email, Byrd defended the bussing of children, saying that it might actually act to provide a seamless transition in schooling for many in the Garland and surrounding communities.
“I should mention that in speaking with Garland area parents regarding transition from Head Start to elementary school, one of the principal objectives of the program, we have learned that many of their older siblings attend Union Elementary, which is one of our Sampson County sites,” Byrd stated. “As such, we will try to accommodate that continuity as we assign programming locations to enrolled families.”
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.