Why Calhoun County plans to double the size of its juvenile home

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The Calhoun County Juvenile Home has changed its name and will see an additional $8 million in planned renovations in the coming years to better align its facility with its mission to make positive changes in the lives of young people.

The 42-bed Marshall Building is now known as the Calhoun County Youth Center after receiving approval Sept. 1 from the Calhoun County Board of Commissioners. As part of the rebranding, the establishment adopted a new logo that includes a phoenix – a symbol of rebirth and renewal.

Calhoun County Youth Center's new logo features a phoenix, a symbol of rebirth and renewal.

The name change comes as the county council also approved funding and design work for approximately $8 million in renovations to the aging facility built in 1957. Proposed upgrades include classrooms and common areas additional facilities, as well as a dedicated reception area for children admitted to the facility.

The upgrades will more than double the facility’s existing footprint from 15,760 square feet to approximately 33,105 square feet.

Construction is expected to begin in December, with an expected completion date of June 2024.

“This project will allow the Youth Center to continue to operate on its favorable current site, while extending the life of its structurally sound building components and mechanisms,” Calhoun County Administrator Kelli Scott said in a statement. a statement. “Most importantly, the renovation plans aim to greatly improve the comfort, safety and efficiency of employees and young people within the Youth Center, and to expand its size and capacity so that all operations run smoothly. on the ground floor and not in the basement. “

The youth center provides short-term detention for children between the ages of 11 and 17 who are being held for misdemeanors, parole violations and felonies pending further legal action.

Children are placed in the detention program by court order.

The Youth Center also offers a short-term behavioral treatment program. Empowered Youth Experience Success (EYES) aims to help young people with delinquent behavior analyze how they think and how their thinking affects their behavior and decision-making.

The facility currently averages about 18 to 25 residents at any given time and also accepts children from other counties, according to youth center director Tori Benden. His annual income is approximately $722,700.

“We’re in high demand,” Benden said, acknowledging the facility serves 17 other counties in the state. “But that number has probably increased.”

Not every county has a secure detention center, she said, and many facilities across the state have closed in recent years, leaving many children with no place to go.

The Youth Center has its share of challenges. There are a number of cramped multi-purpose areas throughout the building, Benden explained, including a courtroom that doubles as a doctor’s office and adjoins a staff bathroom.

Several rooms at the Calhoun County Youth Center currently serve multiple purposes.  A courtroom, shown here, doubles as a doctor's office and adjoins the staff toilets.

Additionally, the building’s classrooms are located in the basement, a less than ideal learning environment for children, according to Benden. The general layout of the space also makes it difficult for center staff to keep the co-defendants separated from each other.

The Calhoun County Board of Commissioners in May authorized the county to issue up to $13 million in capital improvement bonds for the renovation and expansion of the center and energy upgrades to all county-owned facilities. .

“We (plan) to increase our number of beds from 42 to 52 in hopes of providing more services and being able to house more children for other counties in the state because the need is so high right now. moment,” Benden said. “It really becomes a public safety issue.”

The county has reached an agreement with a company, Veregy, for renovations to the center, including solar power, LED lighting and electrical system upgrades designed to reduce energy consumption at the facility.

Energy savings from the upgrades and the expected increase in revenue due to the center’s increased ability to accommodate more out-of-county residents will help fund construction costs estimated at $8 million, explained the Deputy County Administrator Brad Wilcox.

The renovations include the engineering and installation of roof-mounted solar panels designed to achieve net metering, where the solar energy generated is equal to the electricity purchased from the local utility.

Four new classrooms will also be added to the main level of the facility, along with a separate entrance and reception area for young people admitted to the centre. Admissions are currently conducted in the same space where visitors enter the building, eliminating any possibility of privacy.

Pictured is the Calhoun County Youth Center Admissions/Admissions area, which also serves as the visitor entrance.  The proposed renovations include a dedicated reception area and a separate entrance for young people admitted to the establishment.

The renovations also include a shift to a modern modular design, with large common areas added in each wing of the facility that will allow youth to participate in programming and group counseling without traveling great distances, helping staff maintain adequate separation between co-defendants, victims and offenders.

A large visiting area, with separate rooms available to accommodate private family and legal conversations, is also planned, among other improvements.

“It’s not just about putting young people at the center of what we do and the logo, it’s about really modernizing things and upgrading ourselves and making our look match what we’re doing with the kids inside the facility because we’re doing a great job,” Benden said of the renovations.

“It’s really a rebirth, it’s a new beginning,” she continued. “Everyone deserves a second chance and I think Phoenix represents that.”

Contact reporter Greyson Steele at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter: G_SteeleBC

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