OCS to demolish South Highlands

Published 11:56 pm Thursday, October 30, 2014

Officials have temporarily closed the doors of the Opp Head Start facility until further notice, citing demolition of nearby “derelict buildings.”

Ron Holliman, Head Start director, said Thursday that the demolition of part of the old South Highlands Elementary School, which houses Head Start, was not to start until the end of the school year. The Opp Board of Education approved the demolition last fall.

“Everyone was aware of this,” Holliman said. “Opp City Schools, the owner of the property, under the direction of Superintendent Michael Smithart, started the demolition project prematurely. Mr. Smithart bid the project and is supervising the contractor. The contractor has taped the area as an asbestos hazard. Given the situation, we closed the Opp Head Start Center until the problem has been eliminated. I called Mr. Smithart but he has not returned my call.”

Smithart said he regrets the situation has taken such a negative turn.

“I am in receipt of an email from Mr. Holliman in which he threatened negative publicity, and I see this as an attempt to misrepresent the dilemma we find ourselves in,” he said. “We are certainly following all guidelines with respect to the abatement of any asbestos materials and are in no way exposing children or employees to any potentially hazardous materials.

“We proposed alternative solutions and there did not seem to be any desire to pursue those,” Smithart said. “I hope this unfortunate situation can be resolved very soon.”

Holliman said he has notified the Department of Human Resources Day Care Licensing Division in Montgomery.

Holliman said the school year was set to end of May 22.

“Parents will be contacted when it is safe to reopen the Head Start Center,” he said.

There are 77 children enrolled in the program, which is for low-income families and is free to those enrolled.

Opp Mayor John Bartholomew said while the city is not involved in the situation, Head Start is a very important resource for the city and its residents.