When Coaldale Council on Oct. 12 voted 4 to 3 to sell the former town high school, it made the decision in the borough's best interests. Council on Tuesday reversed its decision, voting to keep the building.
But some parents of the 81 children who attend Carbon County Head Start programs in the building, known as the Coaldale Complex, still fear for their future there.
Head Start parents, grandparents and staff met Tuesday afternoon with Kay Washington, Senior Executive Director for Pathstone in Pennsylvania and New Jersey and Beth Jaharias Zinkand, Senior Director, Child and Family Development Administration for Pathstone. Pathstone is the organization that administers Head Start programs. The Coaldale building houses Pathstone Head Start, Early Head Start, Pre-Kindergarten and the Healthy Marriage program.
Problems with damage caused by a roof that leaked for years and deteriorating exterior walls prompted council to hire engineers to perform a structural review of the building this summer. They said the building is safe, provided the borough took some interim steps, including installing scaffolding above doors and under roof supports. The borough complied with the measures.
Parents remain concerned about whether the programs will have to move from the Coaldale Complex and whether the massive 87-year-old building at Sixth and Phillips streets is safe. Council's primary reason for selling the building is that it needs about $590,000 worth of permanent repairs. Earlier this year, Pathstone spent at least $175,000 to refurbish the first floor of the building to accommodate a new program.
Some parents have pulled their children from the Head Start program because they were unsure of the soundness of the building.
As children played nearby, Washington on Tuesday assured parents that both the borough's structural engineers and the structural engineer hired by Pathstone have pronounced the building safe.
Shortly after the meeting at the complex, Washington, Zinkand, along with Head Start grandparent Paul Coppie, parent Deb Whately, staff member Viki DeMarco and others attended the regular public borough council meeting to ask borough leaders to reverse the Oct. 12 vote to sell the complex. Council did just that.
At the complex meeting, Washington said that by approaching council, "I think that they'll see that we do care about this facility." The building isn't just important for the Head Start program, but also houses public social events, such as the borough's CHOSE community improvement group's events. "It's for the community," Washington said.
Head Start has been housed at the complex since 1980. Pathstone has been proactive, looking for alternative space for about four months. The organization is willing to provide two temporary spaces, perhaps at the Lehighton program, until a permanent home can be found for the programs. Pathstone has "team of management staff, local staff, parents, two realtors and a local developer searching for space," Washington said.
But moving the program would be costly, and Pathstone would rather stay at the complex. One option would be to buy the building from the borough. But Washington said that would be a lengthy process for Pathstone, "due to the all of the Head Start Performance Standards and other requirements."
Another, more realistic option, would be for Pathstone to help the borough by applying for grants to make the permanent repairs, and to make the building more attractive, Washington said.
Zinkand said Pathstone would need the borough's permission to undertake any work on the building.
The group discussed the possibility of moving to the former Lehighton High School, where the other Head Start program is housed, but quickly realized there is no room there.
But the troubles also include the Coaldale Complex Commission, an independent entity which operates the building for the borough. One mother said the Commission has been unfriendly toward the program, not allowing crafts involving glitter or glue. "They don't want us here," she said.
Tuesday's meeting was the second Washington has had with staff and parents and grandparents concerning the building. The first was on Oct. 21, and drew about 60 parents and grandparents. In addition to Washington, that gathering included Zinkand, Mary Mailey, Director CFDS, and Bernetta Frantz, Deputy CFDS.
Washington assured the parents there would be a Head Start program and building in the Coaldale area. "We will not stop looking and planning until a location is secured," she said. "Our goal is to provide services in a safe facility with as little disruption as possible."
Washington said parents and staff at that meeting wanted to know where the programs would relocate and whether the community supports the programs.
according to Washington, the questions included why the programs were late in opening in the fall.
"An anonymous phone call was placed to the Department of Environmental Protection, which prompted an unannounced visit to our center on Oct. 14 by DEP to collect samples for asbestos testing," she said. "Therefore, PathStone made a corporate decision, for the safety and well-being of our children, families, and staff to suspend use of the building until the results of the tests was received."
The test results showed the substance was not asbestos at all, but gypsum.