Home Local News Head Start, affordable housing project to open in Lexington

Head Start, affordable housing project to open in Lexington

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The Lexington Housing Authority will develop ten single-family homes, five town homes and a new Head Start on a parcel of land on Shropshire across from William Wells Brown Elementary School.

bmusgrave@herald-leader.com

A much-needed early childhood development center will open in 2024 near William Wells Brown Elementary school, officials announced Monday at an official groundbreaking for the project.

The $4 million Head Start Center will serve children ages three and younger.

“This project has the opportunity to transform lives,” said Lexington-Fayette Urban County Councilman James Brown, who helped spearhead bringing the early childhood center to the neighborhood on land owned by the Lexington Housing Authority. “It will help enhance educational opportunity for students and it will help stabilize this neighborhood and help people who live in this neighborhood by creating more single-family affordable homes.”

The city contributed $750,000 to build a new road that will connect Fifth and Sixth streets along the back of the property on Shropshire Avenue. Eventually the land will also include 10 single-family affordable homes and five apartments. The new road and the new Head Start will be named after Dr. Zirl A. Palmer, a Black Lexington pharmacist who had the first Black-owned pharmacy in the country.

U.S. Rep. Andy Barr, R-Lexington, helped secure a $3 million federal grant for the new Head Start.

“We need to move quickly to make up for learning loss as a result of the pandemic,” Barr said Monday. “By constructing a new prep school facility for these students, they can hit the ground running in their education before they reach kindergarten.”

The 9,000 square-foot Head Start will serve 52 students and have five classrooms, said Sharon Price, the executive director of the Community Action Council, which will run the Head Start.

The goal is to prioritize enrollment of 3 year olds who miss the age cut off to attend the William Wells Brown Elementary preschool program across the street, Price said. Head Start also runs that program.

The group hopes to be open by the 2024 school year, Price said.

Price said she’s honored the new early learning center will be named after Palmer, who sat on the steering committee that created the Community Action Council.

“Children need high-quality learning experiences that prepare them to be successful in school and in life,” Price said. “Parents need high-quality affordable, early childhood education and support so they can go to work.”

Price said increasing access to early childhood education was one of the top recommendations of Mayor Linda Gorton’s Racial Justice and Equality Commission, which Price served on.

Price said the additional $1 million to build, staff and equip the new center will come from other Head Start money.

Austin Simms, the executive director of the Lexington Housing Authority, said they are still working on financing for the single-family homes and the apartment complex but hope to start construction sometime in the spring.

It’s the final piece of the Bluegrass Aspendale public housing redevelopment that began in 2005.

Simms too has ties to Palmer and Palmer’s drug store and soda fountain.

“It was the first soda fountain, that I, as an African-American kid growing up in Lexington, was allowed to sit at,” Simms said. Simms said the new Head Start and housing will further transform the area.

“This is what we are here to do to: Build out and transform a neighborhood that we started in 2005,” Simms said.

In October 2021, the Urban County Planning Commission unanimously approved a development plan for 10 single-family homes, five apartments and a Head Start on a tract of now-vacant land.

Starting in 2005, and fueled largely by federal Hope VI grants, the Lexington Housing Authority has redeveloped the former public housing complex into a mixture of affordable apartments, townhouses and homes.

The area has long needed affordable child care, residents have said.

The single-family homes will front Shropshire but there will be access to the homes from the back via the newly constructed road.

First developed in 1936, Bluegrass Aspendale was Lexington’s first public housing project.

At its height, it had 900 government-subsidized apartment units in the area between Third and Seventh streets and Race and Magnolia. Over the past two decades, the area has been redeveloped to include 400 homes, town houses and apartments.

This story was originally published October 31, 2022 2:22 PM.

Beth Musgrave has covered government and politics for the Herald-Leader for more than a decade. A graduate of Northwestern University, she has worked as a reporter in Kentucky, Indiana, Mississippi, Illinois and Washington D.C.



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