Head Start looks to consolidate

By Casey Peacock and Karl Terry: PNT Staff

The Eastern Plains Community Action Agency’s Early Headstart program in Portales is hoping to expand and centralize its operation.

Program’s officials are hoping to accomplish that by adding on to a building leased from the city of Portales on Boston and moving out of one on South Avenue D with a less attractive lease. To do that, local EPCAA officials are looking to the state legislature for $573,869 in capital funding to tackle the project.

The Head Start pre-school (ages 3-5) program was moved in 2000 to the city-owned facility on North Boston, which previously housed the senior citizens center. The Eastern Plains Community Action Agency spent $350,000 to bring the building up to code, according to EPCAA board chairperson Inez Rodriguez.

The Early Headstart program, which caters to children 6 weeks to 36 months, is located on South Avenue D and recent rent increases there, coupled with the inconvenience of the two separated locations, spurred the board into looking for solutions, according to Rodriguez.

The expansion proposes to build into the park that is next to the North Boston building. This arrangement would allow the two programs to be housed separately, but in the same location, said Rodriguez.

“We’re trying to bring them together, we feel it will benefit us better,” Rodriguez said. “The current arrangement has proved to be impractical for the staff and parents.”

With one kitchen between the two facilities, Rodriguez said the staff prepares meals at the North Boston site and transfers them to the other location.

Parking is also a problem, Rodriguez said. Many parents have children enrolled in both programs, and that causes them to have to drop children off at each location.

Program officials asked the City Commission to request the funding from the legislature.

City councilors at that meeting were supportive of the program and the need to consolidate it at one site, but were resistant to adding the project to their list of capital outlay requests.

“We’re not a fiscal agent for you,” Mayor Orlando Ortega Jr. said. “The lease just states that the building reverts to us if you’re not doing Headstart there. Being a fiscal agent is a big responsibility, (and) we take that very seriously for anyone.”

Councilor Mike Miller said he was supportive of the idea but suggested that EPCAA make the request themselves.

“It wouldn’t be our request, it would be their request as an entity,” Miller said. “You can advocate that much better than we can.”

EPCAA Executive Director Dora Martinez of Tucumcari says her agency is primarily supported by federal and state operating funding and can’t apply for state capital outlay funding.

“Directly, we cannot apply for funding like that,” Martinez said. “We approached the city because they’re the one who owns the building. If the city of Portales doesn’t apply, we’ll just have to stay where we’re at.”

Portales City Manager Debi Lee said she intends to help Rodriquez and EPCAA officials apply for capital outlay funding. She said the idea would be for EPCAA Headstart of Portales to lobby for the funding and the city of Portales to support the request as long as it can be kept separate.

“They’re in a good position to ask for the money,” Lee said. “There’s a need for daycare.”