Telamon Corporation seeks space to serve Pre-K children, makes presentation to town

By Tony E. Windsor

Representatives of a local early childhood education program shared information about their organization and expressed great interest in leasing a portion of a school building recently acquired by the town of Laurel.

On Monday, Sept. 4, Interim Head Star Coordinator, Clara Martinez and Property Coordinator Gary Johnson of the Telamon Corporation, gave the Laurel Mayor and Council a preview of what they hope Telamon is able to do in partnership with the town and the expansion of their education presence in Sussex County.

Martinez said Telamon, which currently operates a 60-child Head Start program on Discount Land Road, in Laurel, seeks to utilize space in the former Paul Laurence Dunbar Elementary School to meet the needs of an underserved population. She said Telamon currently serves children in the Indian River School District from its Georgetown locations and is seeking additional space to meet the needs of an additional 54 children.

Telamon is hoping to enter a lease agreement with the town of Laurel that would enable it to gain access to three classrooms and necessary office space at Paul Dunbar to expand its operations. In turn, the organization will be responsible for any necessary renovations to the space and also install new safety-based playground equipment and new security fencing around the grounds. Johnson said Telamon will also include fencing for the Laurel Police Department, which will eventually be occupying a portion of the Dunbar school as a location for a new police station.

Martinez said the three classrooms in Dunbar will serve 18 children each and provide classes that operate six-hours per day (8 a.m. to 2 p.m.) Monday through Friday for 170 days per year.

Telamon has budgeted over $250,000 toward the renovations for new leased space. The lion's share being the cost of fencing and installation of playground equipment. The playground equipment alone, according to Johnson, is about $94,000. "We will take care of the renovations at no cost to the town," he said.

Johnson said should the town agree to a lease, Telamon plans to remove all of the existing window air conditioners in the classrooms and office space and install new units.

Martinez said Telamon is eager to reach an agreement with the town of Laurel regarding the Dunbar school and would like to begin programming in the current school year. "We would like to begin immediately because there will be a need to ensure we are able to get all operational documents completed, including the licensing of the center by the state, the Fire Marshal's approval and code inspections. The longer we delay the process, the longer we delay providing services to the children and families," she said.

In addition to using Dunbar classrooms, Martinez said Telamon would also like to relocate its home-based services from its site in Georgetown to the school.

She said this would serve an additional 48 children through weekly 90-minute home visits and two play group activities per month for parents and their children. Martinez said Telamon would like to utilize the modular trailer that is located on the school grounds for this program.

Councilwoman Robin Fisher-Cornish asked whether any equipment purchased by Telamon for use in the kitchen would include restrictions should the town use the kitchen and cafeteria space "to build partnerships" and allow community entities to utilize space for functions.

He said the kitchen and cafeteria space will be a benefit to the operations, but Telamon has no plans of monopolizing their use. "This is a two-way street," Johnson said. "We would greatly appreciate having the space for our program. We may purchase a stove for the kitchen, but this and the kitchen would certainly be available to the town for use by the community."

Johnson said if Telamon is able to lease the Dunbar school space, it hopes to eventually implement additional bus transportation to reach children in the communities of Delmar and Blades, as funding allows.

Martinez said she sees a partnership with the town of Laurel as a "win-win." She said Telamon will provide renovations to beautify the building and grounds at no charge to the town. There will also be a need to hire bus drivers, teachers and assistant teachers and other positions for the Laurel program.

Johnson said it is seeking a 15-year lease with the town for Telamon's use of the Dunbar school, which is required by the federal government. He said that the lease agreement will include an "out clause" that allows either party to vacate the agreement if there are justifiable concerns.

The Telamon Corporation has been operating for over 50 years. It began in North Carolina in the early 1960s with "The Migrant Project" initiated by the North Carolina Council of Churches to support the state's farm worker population. The program expanded to serve farm workers in 10 states and today has over 100 early education locations in 11 states.

In Delaware, The Telamon Corporation has 13 centers in Kent and Sussex counties targeting 10 different school districts. In addition to Laurel, there are Telamon Head Start programs in Dover, Smyrna, Harrington, Georgetown, Milford, Bridgeville, Seaford, Milton, Lincoln and Selbyville.

Laurel Town Manager Jamie Smith said on Monday, Sept. 10, that the town has drafted a proposal for an agreement with Telamon for use of the Paul Dunbar School and it has been sent to the town's attorney for review. After the attorney's review, it will be sent to Telamon for review.

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