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Program, city officials discuss re-opening Clanton Head Start

More hurdles stand in the way of a Head Start center re-opening in Clanton.

The former home of the Clanton Head Start center, E.M. Henry Head Start Center at E.M. Henry Park, was closed in January 2014 because of fire code violations.

Extensive renovations were performed on the facility, which has re-opened under the name of West End Community Center, but more details still must be ironed out before Head Start would resume its activities, which include promoting school readiness of young children from low-income families.

At issue are the amount of rent Head Start would pay for the facility, and Head Start’s request that the center be reserved exclusively for the program during the time students would be present.

Resident Robert Binion addressed the Clanton City Council at its meeting Monday about the center and asked for an update.

“There are [former Head Start employees] in the neighborhood driving 30-40 miles to work,” Binion said. “We thought the building was ready. We want to be treated fair.”

Elaine Pace with Head Start said the program could pay $800-$1,000 a month to use the facility, but the amount is contingent upon an appraisal of the property, which should be received in seven to 10 days.

Head Start would also require the city to furnish utilities and for the center to be reserved exclusively for the program from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. each weekday from August through June.

Pace said the exclusivity is necessary because the center has only two restrooms, which are located in a communal area of the center. She said the restrooms could not be shared with anyone outside the program.

“You have to think about the safety of your children,” Pace said.

City officials, and one resident in attendance, balked at the idea of the center being reserved exclusively for Head Start.

City Councilman Greg DeJarnett suggested new restrooms be constructed that would be contained in a wing of the center with the classrooms. The wing could be locked off from the rest of the center, which could allow the center to be used at the same time as Head Start was in session.

City Councilman Sammy Wilson said the only possible approach might be to turn one of the four classrooms into restrooms. Head Start is planning to use two classrooms.

DeJarnett also addressed what he called “false information” that had been spread about the city’s efforts and desires, which he said have always included Head Start coming back to the center.

“We’ve been having community meetings about what we’ve been doing to get the building open,” DeJarnett said. “We have covered this over and over again.”

There were several residents in attendance at Monday’s meeting, and DeJarnett encouraged them to contact him for information about the project and to relay any concerns they have.