Delagall Foundation seeks space for youth program

OKEECHOBEE — Use of the space at the Douglas Brown Community Center became a topic of controversy at the Aug. 23 meeting of the Okeechobee County Commissioners. In April 2017, the commission agreed to lease two classrooms and an office to the Delagall Foundation for an after school program. When the Delagall Foundation was unable to obtain the required paperwork within a year, East Coast Migrant Head Start was promised the same space.

A new lease with East Coast Migrant Head Start, which has leased other classrooms in the same building for the past 25 years, was on the agenda for approval Thursday.

Dan Delagall said while he had some delays getting the nonprofit paperwork completed with the state, the Delagall Foundation had been expecting to use two classrooms for the fall semester.

“I have no problem with East Coast Migrant,” said Mr. Delagall. He added that program is not a help to the Douglas Brown Community.

“We have one person who lives in the community who works at that center,” he said. “No kids who live in that community attend that center.

“The center doesn’t actually help our kids,” he said.

Mr. Delagall said he had been under the impression the Delagall Foundation’s after school program would have the use of that space once the paperwork was complete.

“It was approved for the foundation to use the two classrooms, but it took a lot longer than I expected,” he said.

County Parks and Recreation Director Albie Scoggins said the agreement with the Delagall Foundation was approved in April 2017.

The county spent about $4,000 to paint the classrooms, polish the rooms and repair the blackboards, he said.

“Where we went off the tracks was Mr. Delagall did not have his paperwork in order, including the ability to get insurance which is required by the county,” said Mr. Scoggins.

“Months and months went by without any communication,” he said. “In that period of time the county withdrew the offer because there wasn’t any movement.

“I had already been in discussion with the East Coast Migrant Program about those classrooms,” he said.

Mr. Scoggins said East Coast Migrant Head Start has given up another building lease they have in town because they had the opportunity to take over the two classrooms and additional office space at the Douglas Brown Center.

He said he left voice mail for Mr. Delagall but his calls were not returned.

“This was not jerked out from under Mr. Delagall and the Delagall Foundation,” said Mr. Scoggins.

At the Aug. 23 meeting, Mr. Delagall said he did not get any voice mail messages from the county. He said he did not obtain insurance until February because they did not have anything to insure yet.

He said the Delagall Foundation used classroom space at a church during the summer to serve about 25 children. He said that space is not large enough and he expects the program to grow by another 20 children in the fall. The after school program will meet Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. They will also plan some special programs and trips, he said.

The school system has provided some educational equipment and recently approved a program for high school students to earn community service by helping with the after school program.

The program has obtained a van so they are able to provide transportation for the children, he added.

“Is there any other space in the facility Mr. Delagall could rent to help with children in Douglas Park?” asked Commission Chair Terry Burroughs.

Mr. Scoggins said the only space available is the auditorium which is open for public use and often used for church dinners, weddings and birthday parties. He said during the summer it is used for the Chakka Stars summer camp that serves the children in that neighborhood.

Commissioner Brad Goodbread said the county plans to add bathrooms near the basketball courts at the Douglas Brown Center. He said perhaps in the future they could expand the facility.

Chairman Burroughs said the decision to reject the Delagall Foundation lease did not come back before the commission.

“I think what happened is 12 months had passed,” said County Administrator Robbie Chartier. “That was more than enough time. I am the one who said, ‘let’s move on’.”

Commissioner Byrant Culpepper suggested in the future, they should use a certified letter with return receipt requested if they are unable to contact someone by phone. Cell phone voice mail is not always reliable, he noted.

Commissioner Goodbread asked if the Delagall Foundation could use the old cafeteria.

Mr. Delagall said that could work if there is a secure space where they can lock up their equipment and supplies. He said there is a room next to the kitchen that has a pull down door that might be adequately secured.

“With a little cooperation, I think we can work this out,” said Commissioner Culpepper.

Chairman Burroughs asked Mr. Scoggins to meet with Mr. Delagall to come up with a schedule when the Delagall Foundation will use the building, and a secure place for them to store equipment and supplies.

Mr. Scoggins said other groups use the building so he needs to put the Delagall Foundation’s dates and times into the reservation system.

The commission approved the new lease for East Coast Migrant Head Start for the classrooms and office space.

Publisher/Editor Katrina Elsken can be reached at kelsken@newszap.com

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