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Northampton City Council extends lease another decade for Head Start on Vernon Street

The council unanimously agreed to extend the lease of the building at 56 Vernon St. for another decade to Community Action, the nonprofit that operates the full-day, year-round Head Start and other early care and education services for low- and moderate-income families. A Head Start school has been in the building for 36 years.

In exchange for the lease extension to 2023, Community Action promises to make a minimum capital investment of $300,000 in building and heating, ventilation and air-conditioning upgrades over the next 10 years. The nonprofit also must continue to fund day-to-day building maintenance and pay its own utility bills.

Mayor David J. Narkewicz said Community Action has access to $200,000 in federal Head Start money to replace the building’s deteriorating roof and $125,000 from the state’s Clean Energy Center to replace an old boiler.

“Three hundred thousand is a significant investment in a city building,” he said.

In order to secure the funds, Community Action must have long-term control of a site. Councilors backed the new lease, agreeing that the work Community Action does on Vernon Street is vital to the most needy in the community. The councilors also want to ensure that the services remain in Northampton.

“I think it’s great that they are going to stay here in Northampton,” Ward 6 City Councilor Marianne L. LaBarge said.

The lease calls for the organization to pay $1 a year. The city has similar deals in place for other buildings it owns, including the Northampton Survival Center on Prospect Street and the Northampton Community Music Center in the former South Street School.

Anat Weisenfreund, director of the Community Action’s parent/child development center, said organization leaders are excited to be able to stay put for the foreseeable future, especially given recent cuts to the Head Start program. Those cuts forced the agency to eliminate $300,000 from its budget this year, which meant a drastic reduction in student enrollment and employees. Some of those cuts have since been restored.

“We are alive and we are doing fine ... we do a lot for the very poorest of our neighbors and our community,” she said.

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