The Head Start program in Ignacio unexpectedly closed Tuesday, leaving about 95 families scrambling to find day care and other services for their children after the Southern Ute Indian Tribe closed the building where it was housed.
Head Start is one of six programs operated by Southern Ute Community Action Programs.
Head Start can use the nearby modulars but was unable to keep the program open this week because the staff is busy packing supplies and materials, said Eileen Wasserbach, director of SUCAP.
“The building occupied by the SUCAP Head Start program was built in the late 1930s by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and buildings from this era sometimes contain hazardous materials,” the tribe wrote in a statement. “Recently, the tribe contracted with an environmental consultant to conduct an assessment of the Head Start building. The tribe received a final report identifying the presence of asbestos in the crawlspace of the Head Start building. ”
On Wednesday, the tribe will allow Head Start to begin to use some of the space in the Southern Ute Cultural Center and Museum. Three classrooms were in the process of being moved Thursday afternoon, Wasserbach said.
The program hopes to reopen by the end of next week, if not sooner, she said. Some classrooms will remain in the modulars, while about 45 students will move to the cultural center.
Head Start typically serves about 95 families, or 140 children total, in the Ignacio area.
SUCAP has conducted a capital campaign for the past seven years to raise money for a new facility. The hard part is finding the land to purchase, Wasserbach said. About 2.5 acres are needed in or near Ignacio.
“We’ve really struggled to find the right place and raise the funds to get going,” she said.
SUCAP was founded by the tribe in 1966 and became an independent entity a year later, although it still uses tribal facilities. It is a federally funded program that provides free education, health and nutrition services to low-income families. Part of its mission is to ensure family relationships and enhance the well-being of children.