Head Start services will not be offered in the town of Garland throughout this entire school year, as program grantee Telamon Corporation begins it services in Sampson on Monday while deciding how it will proceed with extensive renovations to the town’s Head Start facility.
Telamon executive director Richard Joanis said recent enrollment for Garland children “went well” and Telamon transportation officials are now culling residences so that a bussing route can be put together. It was officially announced last month 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.
While an Aug. 13 email from Telamon director Arvelis Byrd to mayor Winifred Murphy stated the town would not be a site for Head Start services by the Sept. 10 start of the program year, Joanis said Tuesday he was certain that opening the facility would not happen until at least next year, if then.
Joanis elaborated on the extensiveness of the renovations needed, and the bidding and funding process that would have to be navigated before getting to a point where any construction could take place. On par with estimates given in the Aug. 13 email, Joanis said renovations at the aged school facility on Church Street would be a minimum of $200,000.
He said an environmental assessment, the results of which have now been received, has revealed the presence of both lead paint and asbestos, confirming Telamon’s fears. Program officials previously noted the HVAC system, windows, playground equipment, exposed pipes and chipped paint as being among the problem areas that would need attention to bring the building up to code.
“Our preliminary figure was about $200,000, and that was fairly accurate,” he said. “We’re pretty sure that it is going to be in excess of $200,000.”
Additional funds could be sought by way of grants, but it would likely not be known until the end of this year or beginning of next whether those grant applications were successful, Byrd has noted. Joanis said additional funding would have to be received — there is simply not enough funds available currently to cover the repairs.
“If we’re going to be in Garland, it would require supplemental funding,” said Joanis. “Based on population numbers, the federal Office of Head Start makes allocations based on the number of children. They can do one-time funding, which they have done in cases of emergencies or natural disasters or other damages. Sometimes you get the funding, sometimes you don’t. If we think that number is reachable, we would do that request.”
“That number,” the actual cost to make the needed repairs to get the facility licensed, would be solicited through a bidding process. Telamon thinks it’s in the ballpark of $200,000, but it could be much more.
“We would have to bid it,” Joanis said. “That would tell us approximately what it would cost. Then we would have to find a way to fund that. It would not be something that would happen this year at all.”
Garland board members and parents were first informed their children would be bussed to Roseboro or the Union School district because of the building’s current condition at the end of July. A facility walkthrough was subsequently conducted, following which Joanis reiterated that the company had not decided to close the doors in Garland forever, but they would not be opened by September.
Joanis said that, while no promises were made to be in Garland, the town’s facility was included in a wish list of centers where Telamon wanted to have children served. The only promise was to serve 417 total children, 345 Head Start and 72 Early Head Start children.
As Telamon closes in on the startup of services in Sampson, it is taking care of transportation needs.
“We have to know where each residence is so they can put together a route. They have to put all the zip codes together to get the route,” said Joanis. “That all has to be known before they put the transportation plan together.”
Joanis pointed to federal requirements that prohibit young children from being on buses for long periods of time, so in order to meet those mandates, 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.
“If it takes two buses so be it,” he said.
A survey of parents by Telamon showed that the widely preferred location was Union Elementary.
“Preliminary results were that most parents opted for Union over the other location,” said Joanis. “I imagine that was because some of their (enrolled children’s) older siblings already go to Union.”
Some parents have raised concerns of being subject to an additional fee, as they say they have been informed they will be. Joanis said that would likely only be the case if parents were working outside the normal hours of Head Start. Program applications note that a full day consists of 9 hours Monday through Friday, including four hours of Head Start services at no cost to families plus five hours of additional childcare services, funded either by childcare subsidy vouchers or by private family payments.
There is not a fee being tacked on for regular Head Start services or for transportation, Joanis said.
“I’ve not heard anything like that at all in Sampson County. It would not be for Early Head Start or Head Start, because that has to be budgeted,” said Joanis. “We do provide wrap-around services (at an extra fee), if parents are at work and that extends beyond the hours (of Head Start) days.”
Parents have also raised concerns they will have to do the transporting themselves. Joanis said that is simply not true.
“I don’t know anyone that would be forced to transport their children, unless they want to because they are so close to a center,” Joanis said. “We have to figure out how to get all children enrolled in the program to the facilities.”
Joanis said Telamon is looking forward to opening a new chapter of Head Start in Sampson County, and hopes that some growing pains that come with transition can ultimately give way to a positive experience for everyone involved.
“I know that the situation regarding the facility there was upsetting to a lot of people,” said Joanis, who pointed to a similar facility situation, and community opposition to its closing, that Telamon has been experiencing in Indiana. “It’s not unusual when you think about it. Head Start has been in Garland for what, 40 years? You can grandfather some of the licensing for those facilities and a lot of code changes get grandfathered too. But, once a program changes hands, it’s a whole new ballgame. That’s what we were caught in.”
He said, despite the long process it entails, the option of returning services to a site in Garland has not been taken off the table and is expected to continue to be explored by Telamon property coordinator Bill Buckner.
“We still think there’s a possibility that we would be able to refurbish that facility and get those children in there, but right now we’re focused on Sept. 10,” said Joanis, “and getting this program going in Sampson County is our top priority.”
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.