The Block Island Times

Early Learning Center seeks autonomy in maintaining its facility

By Gloria S. Redlich | Aug 20, 2013

The Early Learning Center (ELC) is trying to gain a little more control over its own destiny — and the building its housed in. For years, the group has leased space in the Old Harbor Meadow Community Center, a building owned and maintained by Block Island Economic Development. At its Aug. 7 meeting of the ELC Board of Directors, the members discussed the process of exploring a new lease arrangement and the possibility of securing a building acquisition grant.

According to ELC Director Susan Black, BIED had not been set up as a management company. “They are a volunteer board,” she said. (Black is stepping down as director, see more details below.)

Over the years, the ELC has found itself picking up the responsibilities for maintenance and upkeep, according to ELC members. ELC Secretary Deborah Hart said the upgrades were needed to maintain the facility’s accreditation — guidelines established by the state Department of Children, Youth and Families call for specific maintenance requirements.

The ELC’s lease arrangement, which expired in December of 2012, allowed the group to rent space from BIED at the Center for $2,000 a month and for head teacher Tracy Heinz to rent an upstairs apartment in the facility, according to Black.

At the Aug. 7 meeting, ELC board members expressed concerns about the length of time they have gone without a lease. Member Martha Velie-Gass said that BIED President Patty Murphy and member Peter Saxon were currently working on a new lease. Saxon said the lease would be ready “no later than October.”

Co-president Lisa Robb said she was consulting with an attorney about the status of the lease and to better understand the group’s current responsibilities for maintenance.

In the meantime, an interim organization has been created to establish long-term management goals for the Community Center. The new group, Old Harbor Meadow Community Corporation (OHMCC), is comprised of two members each from the following groups: the ELC, the Senior Advisory Committee, BIED and Old Harbor Meadow Homeowners. Velie-Gass said the eventual plan was for the new group to take over management of the ELC’s facility, after which BIED would be eased out and the ELC would pay rent to the OHMCC.

Robb questioned whether this was the best direction to go in, asking what the advantage of paying rent rather than a mortgage was.

Considerable discussion ensued about what the possibilities were of the ELC assuming mortgage responsibilities, what the assessment value of the building might be and how large the mortgage would be. Though most board members agreed that they would have to do much more “serious fundraising” in order to take on the mortgage, they were uncertain about BIED’s current level of attention to insurances and taxes.

ELC Board member Roberta Closter noted that the ELC board was going to meet with BIED on Aug. 26, to “bring them a proposal” for assuming the mortgage, the costs of insurance and maintenance of the property.

The idea, she said, “If and when we develop a capital fund, then we’ll pay for the building. We’ll gradually assume responsibility for the building and gradually give them [BIED] back the money.”

The general consensus of the group was that OHMCC would function in a transitional capacity, eventually moving in the direction of the ELC taking responsibility for the building.

New director, security

Black reported that the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NEAYC) documents were being prepared and would be ready for a September deadline as part of the process of determining ELC eligibility for accreditation. Once the paper work is submitted, the NEAYC will assign a coordinator to help the ELC through the process.

Sue Black is also stepping down as director. The ELC is in the midst of a search for a new director, but with the interview process not completed at the point of the meeting, the interview committee was unable to make a recommendation. To ease the transition to a new director, a team consisting of Sherry Carley, Michele Little and Donna Corey have agreed to work with the new appointee in a process of training and mentoring.

In addition, staff and board members will offer insight and advice from their own areas of interest and expertise.

Security and HVAC

Since the Newtown school tragedy, the local pre-school has been working to strengthen security. Closter reported that Darren Delaney, a security specialist and former state policeman, had met with members of the Security Committee, and the group agreed to implement some of his suggestions: to repair the panic alarm hardware, to have snow fencing installed, to ask Lyn Brown to work on containing the front shrubberies, to contact a locksmith and to return doorbells to good working order.

In addition, Closter planned to meet with Bill McCombe to fine-tune the security camera and to speak with Police Chief Vince Carlone to discuss funding possibilities.

Robb explained that HVAC Mechanical Systems submitted an estimate to ELC of $6,700 to install an air conditioning system in the center. Before accepting the expenditure, the group agreed to look for second opinions. This summer, interior temperatures had risen so high as to require the center to close a few times.

Stacy Henshaw updated the status of the playground, noting that according to the Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) guidelines there must be divided play areas for each separate age group of children. The ELC has two such distinct groups: toddlers and preschoolers.

To meet state standards, Henshaw contacted architect Bob Hiza, who had a proposal for installing a shed, extending fencing and separation of the playground into two separate areas. Henshaw said that the plan would need to be presented at upcoming meetings with the Planning Board and the Historic District Commission. She added the process might take up to six months.

Parking continued to be an ongoing problem, as well, and though the board entered into a lively discussion, the issue was tabled for the September meeting when the group committed itself to creating a long-term parking plan.

The next meeting is set for Sept. 11.

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