The Martin Luther King Jr. Family Outreach Center day care was closed Friday by state regulators due to fire code violations, leaving 25 children without a place to stay and forcing their families to pick them up at noon.
The East Central neighborhood center, 845 S. Sherman St., is not equipped with fire sprinklers, which Washington law requires for child care facilities. The center and the city of Spokane had come to an agreement Dec. 20 allowing the center to remain open as long as it obtained a temporary certificate of occupancy by Dec. 27.
The city offered to provide the certificate as long as certain standards were met, including an inspection by a state fire marshal and the hiring of a “fire watch” to be present at the center at all times. A representative of the state Department of Early Learning, which oversees child care centers, said the department went beyond the deadline to give the MLK center, which serves about 250 to 300 families, more opportunities to meet the requirements.
But Freda Gandy, director of the center, pointed to miscommunications between center staff and city and state officials that she said complicated the process. She said the state fire marshal was unavailable to conduct the final inspection until Jan. 4, but that an initial inspection was conducted about a month ago and the center complied with all requirements.
Clifton Rogers, the state fire marshal for Spokane County, could not be reached for comment Friday.
City building official Joe Wizner requested an inspection of the building Friday afternoon to try to issue a temporary certificate of occupancy. Inspector Supervisor Dan Skindzier said inspectors discovered the center has not hired a fire watch as required, and that Gandy did not provide documentation of the inspection performed a month ago.
Gandy said she has the documents and would have provided them if the inspectors had asked. She also said the center is in the process of hiring a fire watch but has not finalized that process.
Gandy said that when she was notified that the certificate would not be issued Friday, she started calling parents and telling them they would have to pick up their children. She said families are frustrated that the center is being shut down over paperwork.
“They’re parents,” she said. “They don’t understand.”
The problem could become acute next week, when classes at Spokane Public Schools resume and parents are counting on the child care center for after-school programs.
The Department of Early Learning contacted Ben Luety, president of the MLK center board of directors, Friday at about 9 a.m., informing him that the center would be closed at noon unless the temporary certificate of occupancy was secured.
“This was all worked out last week, and now it’s not,” Luety said. “What’s really ironic is the state fire marshal came in and inspected us a while ago and didn’t have a lot to change,” he added, referring to the initial inspection conducted a month ago.
Bob McLellan, assistant director of licensing at the Department of Early Learning, said he believed state staff tried hard to work with the center on a certificate of occupancy.
Wizner said Friday he was unaware the center would be closed, but Luety disputed that statement.
Luety said he called and emailed Wizner several times this week but received no reply by the time the center was shut down.
“I’m really disappointed,” Luety said. “We all wasted a lot of time (at the Dec. 20 meeting) and I don’t have a lot of time to waste. I know other board members that were in attendance don’t have a lot of time to waste.”