Head Start Project Gets Executive Council's Okay
From the Concord Monitor, 2012-05-30

The former Bessie Rowell Elementary School's ongoing transformation into a community center is on schedule after the Executive Council unanimously approved a $350,000 federal grant for the city's Head Start program last week, Franklin City Manger Elizabeth Dragon said.

The grant, approved by all five executive councilors, will allow the Head Start program to renovate a location at what officials are now calling the Bessie Rowell Community Center. The Community Development Block Grant will cover improvements including safety and kitchen equipment and handicap accessibility.

The program is currently located at St. Paul's parish on Elkins Street and is on a year-to-year lease. In their federal grant application, Head Start officials said a proposed 20-year lease with the city at the former Bessie Rowell school would provide them more stability and better long-term planning.

The Head Start program in Franklin employs eight people and provides services to 56 children. Officials have said they would like to accommodate more families, but it is unclear when that expansion would take place.

Dragon said the project will go out to bid in about a week.

Head Start will be just one of several community programs located in the one-story building.

The city's recreation department, senior center, a day care and the coordinator for the mayor's drug task force also plan to move to the community center. All are likely to have access to the building's industrial kitchen, which grant money will pay to upgrade, and have similar rental agreements as Head Start's, Dragon said.

Construction has already begun on a new space for Tiny Twisters, a day-care center that started in Franklin High School in 2005 to curb dropouts caused by teenage pregnancy. The renovations are likely to be done at the end of June, Dragon said.

The program received almost $340,000 in federal grants last year to renovate a location in Bessie Rowell, where it will have a 20-year lease.

Tiny Twisters needed to find a new location after the school district opted not to renew their lease. It will instead use the former day care for office space. Its pending move will allow the day care to double the number of children it cares for from 30 to 60. The number of teachers who work there will also likely double from six to 12.

While the two programs are very different - Head Start is government run and Tiny Twisters is privately operated - both work with preschool-aged children and serve similar populations. Head Start works with families of four who make $22,350 or less and Tiny Twisters often works with low- and moderate-income families.

Both programs said the former elementary school is ideal for their programs because the children will be able to go directly from their classrooms to their Astroturf playgrounds.

The Franklin School Board voted to close the Bessie Rowell School last spring to close a more than $1 million budget gap. The city took it over Oct. 1 and has been working towards renovations since.

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