The Head Start program in Ignacio unexpectedly closed on Tuesday, leaving about 95 families scrambling to find daycare and other services for their children.
Head Start is one of six programs operated by Southern Ute Community Action Programs.
Head Start occupied several classrooms in the old Bureau of Indian Affairs Building on the Southern Ute Indian Tribe campus, and the tribe shut down that building on Tuesday. Head Start can continue to use the nearby modulars, but is unable to keep the program open this week as 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. After the tribe received the report, it communicated the results of the assessment to SUCAP and began discussing a plan to vacate the building. To eliminate any potential risk for asbestos exposure and completely ensure the safety of the building occupants, the tribe determined that it was in the best interest of the occupants to immediately shut down the Head Start building."
There is some good news for affected families. As of Wednesday, the tribe is allowing Head Start to use some of the space in the Southern Ute Cultural Center and Museum. Three classrooms were in the process of being moved on Thursday afternoon, Wasserbach said. The program hopes to re-open by the end of next week, and perhaps sooner, she added. 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 funds 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.
"Head Start is a federally funded program that provides comprehensive early childhood education, health, nutrition, and parent involvement services to primarily low-income families of all ethnicities in our community, at no cost," according to the SUCAP website. "The program's services and resources are designed to foster stable family relationships, enhance children's physical and emotional well-being, and establish an environment to develop strong cognitive skills."