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New juvenile commitment center one step closer to reality

POSTED August 3, 2010 11:06 p.m.
The Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors approved schematics for a new, urgently needed, $24 million Juvenile Commitment Facility on Tuesday morning.The 60-bed facility, to be located adjacent to the existing Juvenile Hall and the Modesto Junior College West Campus, will house youth law breakers who become committed wards of the court. Non-committed individuals will continue to be housed at Juvenile Hall.“This journey started a long time ago, several years ago, with a hope and a wish,” said Jerry Powers, county chief probation officer. “We’re at a point today where we can show you some schematic drawings. We’ve come a long way, but there’s a long way to go.”The county first identified the need for a dedicated commitment facility in an April 2008 study. Committed wards, who account for 68 percent of Juvenile Hall residents, would benefit from rehabilitative programming made possible by a dedicated facility, according to the study. Stanislaus County is the only California county among the top 20 in population to lack a dedicated commitment facility.The county also faces a lack of beds in the existing 158 bed facility, ranking 40th among counties in beds per capita. Juvenile Hall already approaches — and sometimes exceeds — its bed capacity; by 2010, the study estimated the committed population would exceed capacity by 80 beds.The state will provide $18 million of the $24 million total cost through Senate Bill 81 grant funding. While the state is facing tough financial times, Powers said recent events — including an additional $300 million dedicated to SB81 grants by the legislature — have given county staff “quiet confidence” the state will come through with its share of the costs.The county will provide $3.6 million in matching funds, including financing all design work and contributing the $1.7 million property for the facility. The remainder will come from $1.75 million in Public Facilities Fees, and $700,000 in Criminal Justice Facilities Funds.Addressing operating cost concerns voiced by District 1 Supervisor Bill O’Brien, Powers noted the more efficient new facility will allow lower staffing levels — one per 10 wards, compared to one per 15 wards — and will not require additional employees. As occupancy grows, some additional operating costs will be incurred, however, he noted.In addition to the expanded space, the new facility is expected to meet a number of pressing needs faced by the county’s juvenile detention program.“When we design these facilities, they can always be challenging because they are so unique,” said Maynard Feist, AIA associate principal/ Leed AP, Lionakis Design Group Inc., who designed the facility. “Each department wants to operate differently.”The new Commitment Facility was designed to work in concert with the existing Juvenile Hall, with a kitchen, gymnasium, running track, and visiting area to serve both buildings.  The kitchen will allow the facility to offer cooking courses, while the visiting area will address a pressing security concern where visitors at the current Juvenile Hall actually travel into the cell blocks to meet wards. The new facility will also make use of services available at Juvenile Hall, most notably its medical wing, and laundry services will grow to fill the former kitchen.“It looks like these two facilities will complement each other pretty well,” said District 5 Supervisor Jim DeMartini.The new facility includes four educational classrooms, two program rooms, a new control room, and dayrooms, interview rooms, and screening rooms for each of three housing units. The design makes use of natural light to sooth wards, is suicide resistant, and features a design based on linear hallways with room for expansion as demand grows.The Board of Supervisors also approved $41,000 in additional costs on Tuesday, to improve the facility’s radio system, addressing dead spots and an improper frequency currently in use, upgrade a security card access system, and perform an arc flash study to ensure electrical safety.The Board of Supervisors is expected to award funding for the project in summer 2011, with construction completed by winter 2012.To contact Alex Cantatore, e-mail acantatore@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2005.
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