Representatives of Knoxville’s Community Development Corporation (KCDC) and Knoxville-Knox County Community Action Committee (CAC) along with business and community leaders, residents and local stakeholders, on Oct. 18 officially opened the doors of the Western Heights Head Start facility, which will provide comprehensive preschool programs for neighborhood children.
The $5.4 million facility, located at the intersection of West Oldham Avenue and McSpadden Street, offers Head Start and Early Head Start programming by CAC and will serve children from infant to age 5.
“Head Start allows very young children to get an early jump on education and not have to try to catch up after enrolling in elementary school,” KCDC Executive Director and CEO Ben Bentley said. “Western Heights should be a community where families can thrive and find resources and support. The residents are invested and helping to lead the renewal, and children in the community will benefit long-term from having a Head Start facility in their neighborhood.”
The Head Start facility, which will serve more than 130 children, includes four classrooms for infants and toddlers and six preschool classrooms inside 22,000 square feet of space. The site also features two playgrounds with covered and uncovered portions and a large multipurpose room.
“CAC Head Start has a proven record of successfully partnering with families to prepare children to succeed in school and in life,” CAC Executive Director Barbara Kelly said. “CAC is looking forward to welcoming families to the new center and providing access to critical early childhood development opportunities.”
KCDC is leasing the building to CAC, which will operate the center and provide early childhood education; family services; health screenings; assistance with mental health and disabilities; nutritious meals; and dual-language learning programs. CAC Head Start is funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
The opening of Western Heights Head Start aligns with the significant revitalization planned for Western Heights and the broader Beaumont neighborhood through the Transforming Western initiative, which is the result of months of meetings with residents, stakeholders and the community. The 14-month process culminated with KCDC being awarded a $40 million HUD Choice Neighborhoods Implementation Grant in September to help fund the transformation of the neighborhood.
“Early education and access to resources is incredibly important,” Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon said. “I want to thank KCDC and CAC for making this invaluable Head Start amenity a reality, and also, I applaud the business and community partners who are making Transforming Western a success-story model for communities across the nation to emulate. I want to especially acknowledge the residents who live in this neighborhood for their engagement and ownership throughout this process.”
The City of Knoxville is investing $26.5 million in infrastructure and financial assistance for affordable housing in the area.
The Transforming Western plan includes replacing or significantly renovating outdated affordable housing on the Western Heights site, along with employment opportunities, transportation, safety, better access to health care and improved access to technology, specifically internet access. In addition, the plan includes more affordable housing units than currently on-site; additional units for people of varied income levels; and revitalization of the surrounding Beaumont neighborhood.
HUD’s Choice Neighborhoods program leverages significant public and private funds to support implementation of locally driven strategies to improve public housing through a comprehensive approach to neighborhood transformation. Additional philanthropic investment required by the grant and provided by individuals, companies and foundations would be used for site amenities such as parks, greenspaces, community spaces and social services.
McCarty Holsaple McCarty designed the Western Heights Head Start facility, and the construction contractor was Jenkins & Stiles. KCDC’s owner’s representative on the project is Blackburn Development Group. Home Federal Bank of Tennessee is the mortgage lender.
Established in 1939, Western Heights is KCDC’s largest affordable housing development at 440 units. The site is located just off Keith and Western avenues in Northwest Knoxville.