Exclusive: Newark shutters Happy Hands Daycare

Discarded furniture on the roof of the Happy Hands Daycare Center in Newark.
Damaged sidewalks outside of the Happy Hands Daycare Center in Newark.
Exposed electrical wiring at the Happy Hands Daycare Center.
Tampered fusebox at the Happy Hands Daycare Center in Newark.

A daycare center run by a former Newark school board member has been shut down by the City of Newark after inspections by the city found unsafe conditions at the West Peddie Street facility.

Happy Hands Day Care Learning Center, operated by Shanique Speight, was ordered shut on Feb. 6 by order of the Office of the Construction Official and Office of Fire Officials, according to  documents obtainedpdf by TAPintoNewark.

The daycare center also allegedly owes $20,000 in back rent and $13,000 in overdue water bills, two issues that further moved city officials to take action. The building is owned by the City of Newark, according to tax records.

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“It was closed for multiple violations of a serious nature,” Frank Baraff, City Hall’s director of communications, said today.

Newark’s inspections division has filed complaints against Happy Hands, its operator and trustees, who are scheduled to appear in municipal court on Feb. 24.

Speight served on the Newark Public Schools Advisory Board from 2007 to 2012, when she resigned after she was tapped for an appointment to an at-large seat on the Newark City Council to replace Donald Payne Jr., who was appointed to the seat in Congress vacated by his father.

Speight's appointment caused a near riot in Council Chambers in City Hall and led to a legal challenge that resulted in her appointment being overturned. The seat went unfilled until a special election in November 2013, when John Sharpe James, son of former Mayor Sharpe James, was elected.

TAPintoNewark reported that Speight is vying for the 29th Legislative District seat being vacated by Blonnie Watson.

Speight, who is also an Essex County sheriff's officer and the Central Ward chairwoman, is married to Andre Speight, who previously served as the Central Ward Democratic chairman.

The city-issued letter describes a laundry list of code violations, from exposed electrical wiring in a classroom and a “weak staircase” to illegal barbed wire on the playground fence and “collapsing ceilings” in the basement.

Photographs taken from a Jan. 27 inspection of the day care center show cracks and holes dotted across its red-brick exterior and nearby sidewalk. Some bricks on the front of the building appear to be separated and possibly crumbling.

Piles of trash, including old carpeting, furniture and brightly colored children’s toys, sit on the rooftop. In one photo, a bicycle stands near discarded desks and a kitchen play set.

Other photographs display shoddy electrical work, a loose stair, a basement littered with junk and walls that appear battered.

The day care’s owners allegedly refused to close on Jan. 27 when city officials informed them of the problems. T.R. McDonald, Newark’s inspections and enforcement manager, wrote in the letter that the decision to stay open is “unreasonable and recklessly creates or maintains a condition which endangers the safety or health” of people in the building.

Happy Hands repeatedly paid its rent late or not at all in 2015, according to ledgers obtained by TAPinto Newarkpdf. That trend appeared to continue in early 2016, the final time period documented in the rent records.


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