Hays Medical Center’s chief told the Hays USD 489 school board Monday night the hospital staff can see the difference in children who are enrolled at Early Childhood Connections, and that was the reason the hospital gave the district $500,000 toward renovating what will be ECC’s new home.

The $500,000 was offered as part of the sale of the Oak Park Medical Complex, 2501 E. 13th. The hospital owned about half of the buildings in the complex.

The district purchased the property for $2 million in October after accepting a $1.5 million federal grant for renovations. ECC, sponsored by USD 489, has been housed in the former 93-year-old Washington Elementary School, 305 Main, since that facility was closed as an education center in 2015.

Discussion about the sale started about a year ago, USD 489 Superintendent John Thissen said, when a real estate agent contacted school board members, and they then discussed the possibility with him.

“Two years ago we were talking about what are we going to do with space if we have to have twice as many rooms to make our pre-school programming full day instead of just half-day,” Thissen said.

“It kind of spun off from that,” he said.

But as the district staff looked at how much the property and renovations would cost, those numbers started going higher than they wanted, Thissen said. The subject was dropped.

But in May, Donna Hudson-Hamilton, ECC director, applied for a one-time funding request from the federal Head Start/Early Head Start programs, one that is not frequently given, Thissen said.

In late September, the board was informed the $1,473,100 grant had been approved.

“We wouldn’t be where we are if that wouldn’t’ have happened,” Thissen said.

ECC has six classrooms for ages 3 to 5 — three full day and three half day — in Hays, one in Russell and one in Ellis. It serves children eligible for Head Start, state pre-kindergarten and the Early Childhood Block Grant. ECC also provides home-based services in Ellis, Rush, Russell and Rooks counties. Programs for newborns to age 3 are provided in the Munjor School, and Parents as Teachers services are provided in USD 489.

Programs include child development, parenting goals, family engagement, as well as physical and mental health services.

Edward Herrmann, president and CEO of Hays Med, told the board the program is “near and dear” to the hearts of the hospital staff, and not just because it gives underprivileged children a “leg up” on becoming productive members of society.

“Another piece of it, and I don’t think it garners a lot of attention from others, it has to do with primary care visits and immunizations,” he said.

Children from lower-income and poor families, as well as single-parent households are most at-risk of not getting vaccinated, he said.

“That means a lot to us and it really should mean a lot to our community, because as you look across the U.S. right now, we haven’t seen measles in a long time, and we’ve got 35 cases and it’s from a community that didn’t believe in immunizations,” he said, referring to Washington state, where officials have declared a state of emergency due to the outbreak that has mostly affected children.

“And now they’ve put all of these kids at risk as well as other people,” he said.

“So for us, looking at what it does and well being, the mental health aspects for us are really huge, too. Right now, unfortunately, in the state of Kansas, they’ve cut funding in mental health so deeply that the top two places that intake mental health patients are the jail and our emergency departments. And I’m pretty sure that’s not what they were designed to do,” Herrmann said.

Selling the Oak Park property to the district will give ECC something to be proud of where it can continue its work, he said.

“It meant a lot to us and really spoke to what we wanted to see happen with that space,” Herrmann said.

Thissen said the demolition phase of the renovation should begin in about two weeks. That’s actually about four weeks off schedule, he said, but he’s not concerned about missing a deadline the grant imposes. The grant requires the money be spent by the end of June.

“They did say that if we are proving that we’re working towards it, we can show that up until June, there can be an extension requested,” Thissen said.

His greater concerns is wether or not the work will be completed for ECC to move into the facility by the start of the 2019-2020 school year.