MILLERSBURG -- With several inspections completed and estimates received on work necessary to bring the building into compliance, representatives of Kno-Ho-Co-Ashland say they're eager to move forward on a plan to open a Head Start facility in the form of a children's home.
At a recent meeting with the Holmes County commissioners, who own the property along Hardy Township Road 323, Laurie Etzwiler, administrator for family and youth services for the agency, outlined ongoing plans to return the facility to a child care facility.
The Caring Station, a former ministry of Gateway Fellowship, had most recently occupied the building, but ceased to operate on Aug. 29, 2014. In advance of the closure, Pastor Larry Hasemeyer told county commissioners the church, which had subsidized operations to the tune of $250,000 over the years, could no longer afford to keep the project alive.
At Monday's meeting with the county commissioners, who previously discussed a plan to enter into a low-cost, long-term lease with the agency, Etzwiler identified about $258,000 in proposed improvements to the fire alarm system, electrical, septic and facility, including installation of safety doors.
Already Kno-Ho-Co-Ashland Head Start has received a federal Head Start grant of $336,740, of which $250,000 is earmarked for renovation of a new site. The remainder, Etzwiler said, will be used for staffing and equipping new offices and classrooms.
The commissioners, who met earlier in the year with Etzwiler and Holmes County Planning Director Arnold Oliver, who sits on the agency's board, said they remain concerned about the financial feasibility of the project and are committed to ensuring the county is removed from any liability associated with the lease.
"I don't want to be negative, but it's got to be done right," said Commissioner Joe Miller, who questioned the frequency with which well water must be tested, the potential for the presence of lead on the property and Etzwiler's assurance the facility need not be equipped with a sprinkler system.
In fact, she said, removal of the old sprinkler system, which delivers water to uninsulated areas above the second floor, is projected to help reduce excessive heating bills.
The agency "has the money and we're ready to go," said Etzwiler, noting they've "paid for some things already."
Speaking to the commissioners' desire for "some confidence that once they got into the project it's completed," Oliver said, the estimates seem to be in line with available funding. He said the agency also could consider reinserting lease language granting either party a 90-day out. Already written into the proposed agreement is language holding the agency responsible for all general maintenance and repair work.
"I don't have a problem with it," said Commissioner Rob Ault, explaining he will approve an agreement once all outstanding questions are answered.
Similarly, Miller said, "If the county is completely exempt from (liability for) everything -- water, sewer and everything else -- I'll sign off in a heartbeat."
He suggested Oliver prepare and bring to the commissioners an official resolution for consideration.
The property is not unknown to Head Start, which provided services there in the 1990s. The space was turned over to the church when Head Start moved its daycare services from the facility to the Holmes County Training Center, according to Etzwiler.
The agency came to the commissioners in the wake of federal Head Start data suggesting it is in a child's best interest to be in daycare more than previously recommended 3 1/2 hours per day. Consequently, the agency, which operates Head Start programs in Millersburg and Glenmont, is looking to expand services.
To accommodate the new recommendation, Etzwiler said, Head Start is looking to expand on services provided at the Millersburg location, at which it now offers five classes, which are divided between two rooms. Expansion into the county building would provide the agency with two additional classrooms for students, who would be assigned to locations based on where they live.
Reporter Christine Pratt can be reached at 330-674-5676 or firstname.lastname@example.org.