New juvenile hall set to open after four-month delay

Failed fire inspections and furniture ordering delays have pushed back the opening of the county’s new juvenile hall another month.

Most recently scheduled to be operational before Thanksgiving, juvenile services officials said Friday they now plan to relocate the facility’s staff next week, with wards to be relocated Dec. 16 and 17 — in time for Christmas. The delay won’t impact a $21 federal grant that required construction to be completed by the end of September, officials said.

“It’s like moving into a brand newhouse times 1,000,” Probation Chief Loren Buddress said of the project.

The delay is a result of the state fire marshal’s call for additional fire detectors, alarms and sirens, according to project manager James Sowerbrower.

“Occupancy was held up by additional work the fire marshal wanted added for the safety of the public, staff and the youth,” Sowerbrower said.

While built to comply with fire system blueprints already approved by the state, the marshal, upon in-person inspection, required dozens more detectors, alarms, exit signs and warning sirens, officials said. That work is now nearing completion.

A lack of furniture, including hundreds of desks and chairs, also hampered the opening schedule. “Because of the large quantity [of furniture] it took more time, but it is on its way now,” Peterson said.

The opening of the 180-bed hall, dubbed the Youth Services Center, is already three months behind original projections and 18 percent over budget, at $148 million. In addition to issues with its fire warning system and furniture orders, staff training played a role in the delay, said Stewart Peterson, deputy chief of institutions for probation.

The county’s probation department has been busy training the 130 member staff to run the facility, but is juggling schedules to accommodate the already full workload of running the existing juvenile hall, Peterson said. Five to six weeks of training per staffer are required to learn how to run the facility, and include hours of emergency practice scenarios.

The technology-rich facility includes cameras at most secure doors, automated cell doors and an emergency transfer of control system to central command in case something goes wrong, Peterson said.

“The object of all of this [training] is that [we] should have staff that is totally comfortable with the facility when we move in,” Peterson said.

The 276,000-square-foot complex at 222 Paul Scannell Drive, formerly Tower Road, is comprised of 10 buildings, including a girls’ ranch, group home, probation offices, juvenile courts, school classrooms and a cafeteria. The facility, designed like a tire with a courtyard in the middle to minimize fencing, will replace the 55-year-old juvenile hall across the street, which will be demolished, officials said.

ecarpenter@examiner.com

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