Phil Ellis Spring Hill Elementary

Phil Ellis, executive director of Community Action of Southern Indiana (CASI), stands outside the former Spring Hill Elementary School Monday. CASI is expected to close this week on the property through a $425,000 purchase from Greater Clark County Schools, after which CASI operations will be relocated from its Eighth Street location.

JEFFERSONVILLE — Community Action of Southern Indiana (CASI) is expected to close this week on the former Spring Hill Elementary property and begin relocating offices and services over the coming weeks — the first such move in more than 30 years.

The sale is scheduled to be finalized Thursday, with CASI paying $425,000 to Greater Clark County Schools for the facility on 15th Street in the Claysburg neighborhood of Jeffersonville. The contract was approved after a 2018 decision by the GCCS board to close and sell Spring Hill and Maple elementary schools, coinciding with the building of a new downtown school. Students from the two schools transitioned to Franklin Square Elementary on Court Avenue at the start of this school year in July.

CASI Executive Director Phil Ellis said while it will be difficult to leave the neighbors the agency has formed relationships with over the past three decades on Eighth Street, the change will be an opportunity to enhance services to the community. Dollars will be saved on rent and there will be improved accessibility to the facility to people who need its services.

“We want to be able to provide a better more comprehensive service to low-income individuals,” Ellis said. “That will help them to achieve self-sufficiency and that’s what our goal is.”

All of the offices and services now at the Eighth Street location will move to the new space, with four of the 14 Head Start classes remaining off-site at Pleasant Ridge Elementary and Maple Leaf Academy. Administration dollars still will fund the programs provided for the roughly 6,000 Southern Indiana families helped each year — for things like energy and rental assistance, Head Start and other family services — but owning the building outright will free up money to modernize the building and improve services, Ellis said.

CASI now pays $8,000 to rent the Eighth Street Building from the City of Jeffersonville.

The building will be centrally located to provide better access to residents in Claysburg and neighboring Clarksville who may not have transportation and is a block away from a bus line for residents who live farther away.

“Proximity helps out quite a bit to be able to provide the services,” Ellis said.

They hope to be moved in by mid-November, and Ellis said that all services will be offered during the move. He said he also wants to help with the technology needs of clients.

“We’re looking at expanding our computer laboratory to be open later in the evenings,” he said. They also want to be able to provide WiFi access to the surrounding community, “especially for the children that are not attending class, that are homeschooled, it would help to make sure they do have WiFi accessibility.”

CASI’s Head Start program, which is a large part of the agency’s community outreach, also will benefit from the new space. Already built for schoolchildren, the former school’s classrooms will provide more space than the kids now have in the Eighth Street location, said Debra Gaetano, director of the birth-to-5-years-old participants.

The Head Start classrooms and offices will also be on the same floor rather than two, which Gaetano said will be more efficient for getting other services to families.

“It’s kind of like a one-stop shop,” she said. “If the parents come in and they’re homeless, we have a Section 8 department that deals with housing or if they have needs for energy assistance, crisis assistance...we have a lot of different programs we can refer our families to if needed.”

Melody Suddeth, family services manager, said she uses a matrix to determine which families may benefit from Head Start — they provide early education and care to children to help get them ready for kindergarten, while also helping to prop up parents by helping to make sure the family’s nutritional and medical needs are met, and that parents succeed with goals like returning to school or finding employment.

“Everything ties to getting these children school-ready,” Suddeth said. “In the long run if the parent has their education, if they’re self-sufficient, the child is going to be ready for school.”

“We want to change their history,” Gaetano said, adding that the goal is not to help multiple generations of families, but support families in a way that they are able to grow and no longer need those services.

“If we can change the lives of the parents and help them do better, it trickles down to the children.”

No plans have been finalized for what the building will hold when CASI moves out over the next several months, Jeffersonville Mayor Mike Moore said. He said once the deal is finalized between CASI and GCCS, the city will begin pursuing a tenant that will fit with the neighborhood there.

Although he’s excited about the new building, Ellis said he’s going to miss the spot CASI was in for 32 years and he’s grateful for the support of the neighborhood over that time period.

“I just hope that whatever comes into this building, that [the neighborhood] will be able to embrace the new tenant the same way that they’ve embraced us,” he said.

The former Maple Elementary, now Maple Leaf Academy, was bought earlier this year by Bethel A.M.E. Church in Jeffersonville.

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