Officials hope Head Start center close to re-opening

Published 7:24 pm Friday, February 14, 2014

Sitting empty: The E.M. Henry Head Start Center has been closed since Jan. 21, when it was shut down for fire code violations.

Sitting empty: The E.M. Henry Head Start Center has been closed since Jan. 21, when it was shut down for fire code violations.

Four-year-old Kennadi Sigler misses her teachers and classmates at the Clanton Head Start preschool program.

The E.M. Henry Head Start Center was shut down Jan. 21 for fire code violations, leaving Sigler, 39 other students and four teachers wondering what to do.

“She asks about school every day, ‘When is it going to open back up,’” Sigler’s mother, Vanessa Stone, said. “She loves her teachers and the other kids.”

Stone said her daughter has been staying with a relative during the days while Stone works at the Verizon store in Clanton, but that’s only a temporary solution.

Anyway, Stone would rather her daughter have the opportunities that Head Start provided, such as instruction and being around other children.

“I’ve been trying to find a daycare or another school for her to go to because I hadn’t heard anything on the Head Start, and I wasn’t sure when they would open,” Stone said and added that the cost of daycare is a concern for her, a single mother. “It’s hard. I’m going to have to find somewhere soon.”

Those working to get the facility open again are also hoping to find a resolution soon.

Clanton’s Fire Marshal was called to the facility on Jan. 21 when a security alarm sounded, apparently because of an overloaded electrical circuit. During the visit, other fire code violations were found, including an out-of-service stove hood being cooked under.

Because the building is owned by the city of Clanton (Head Start pays a minimal monthly rent), Clanton Fire Department Chief David Driver said he contacted the state fire marshal’s office for an inspection, to avoid any conflict of interest.

The state fire marshal’s report listed 36 violations, among them the hood system and a lack of exit signs. Also, city maintenance personnel keep equipment in an adjoining part of the building for work at E.M. Henry Park, and storing fuel under the same roof as the rest of the building was considered a violation.

City workers Royce Rogers and Henry Witcher said almost all of the issues have been addressed.

New electrical infrastructure was installed over four days, new exit signs were put up and any equipment running off fuel has been removed from the storage area. Also, the faulty hood system was hauled off, the stove moved so that it couldn’t be used, and the kitchen area was locked up.

LaGora Harrell, family engagement worker with Clanton Head Start, said she thinks miscommunication between the city and Head Start caused the situation. For example, Harrell said she would have let the city know that the program didn’t need a commercial-style stove and hood to cook meals for students, had she known the hood had been deemed a fire hazard.

Rogers said communication has improved as all interested parties work to get the building opened again.

“We’ve had several meetings with the mayor,” Rogers said. “We’re all trying to work together. I don’t want to see us lose the rest of the year.”

When all the necessary fixes are made, the state fire marshal’s office would have to be called to come out and perform another inspection before the building could re-open.

Witcher said the only item left on the checklist of things needed to be done is the installation of push bars on two doors leading outside. He said the delivery of the bars has been delayed, but they are expected to arrive any day.

Harrell said every day Head Start is closed is a missed opportunity for the children who benefit from the program.

“It really is a head start for these babies,” she said.