The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Local and State News

January 6, 2012

Wilson Head Start is looking for a new home

ENID — With the deadline to vacate approaching, Wilson Head Start is under the gun to find a new home.

The former Wilson Elementary School building, 740 N. 10th, was traded from Enid Public Schools to the city last summer, as part of a deal for the school district to get enough space for the new Garfield Elementary School, currently under construction.

Gore Park, where the city had a splash pad, and the former National Guard Armory building, were given to the school district and the old Wilson building was deeded to the city. Opportunities Inc. has operated Head Start in that location for more than 20 years, as a tenant of EPS, until last June.

Officials with the Head Start program knew at the time of the trade they’d need to find a new location, but they haven’t been able to do that yet. The program requires a location that affords 35 square feet per child for each classroom — about 700 square feet per classroom.

They’ve found nothing suitable so far in the limited amount of time they have had to search for a location, while they have operated the program for children living in poverty. Head Start provides a realm of supports to families with children enrolled, providing referrals for social services, nutritional assistance, health and mental health services and job training.

In order to meet requirements for federal grants, they also must maintain a balance of local financial support.

“For every $1 million, we have to match $250,000, and that’s no easy task,” said Carol Ramer, associate executive director for OPportunities Inc. Head Start program.

Meanwhile, enrollment for the 2012-13 school year will begin in April, and Head Start officials are uncertain what to tell parents who want to enroll their children.

On the other side, city of Enid officials want the program out of the building by June 30. The city’s plan is to put the splash pad equipment that used to be at Gore Park in a vacant area behind the Wilson playground, and demolish the Wilson building for a different use.

“The timeline follows the June 30 end of the contract,” said Joan Riley, assistant city manager.

“There’s a concept to put a park in and keep the current detached gym as a community center,” said Whitney Box, assistant city planner.

Both Box and Riley said EPS officials notified Wilson Head Start they should vacate the building by June 2011.

“They’ve had two years to do this,” Riley said.

School officials disagree with that assertion.

Karl White, EPS business manager, said the Head Start program was not specifically mentioned in the memorandum agreement between the National Guard, the city and the school district.

White said the school district and the city reached a verbal agreement the Head Start program could stay in the Wilson building through June 2012, and that is what was told to Opportunities Inc.

“We told them we would be conveying the property to the city of Enid, and they would become their tenant for this school year,” White said.

Riley said the building is in such poor condition it must either have work done to it or be torn down, and pointed out the city did not intend to become a landlord.

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