Douglas County Board member Jim Cavanaugh, the opponent-in-chief of a proposal for a juvenile justice campus in downtown Omaha, unveiled a new alternative Monday night at a board committee meeting.

Cavanaugh said the county should build a 12-story tower at 18th and Harney Streets to house Douglas County Juvenile Court and the County Attorney’s Office and Public Defender’s Office staffs. That’s bigger than the 10-story courthouse annex in a proposal backed by a majority of the County Board.

He reiterated his call for renovating the current Douglas County Youth Center near 42nd Street and Woolworth Avenue instead of building a new one. Cavanaugh said the renovation would cost an estimated $14 million, which he said is based on calculations of volunteer architects, engineers and other experts. It would create outdoor recreation space and make the youth center more like a high school than a jail, he said.

Cavanaugh did not offer a cost estimate for the tower. County Board member Mike Boyle attended the Monday meeting and supported Cavanaugh’s stance on renovating the current youth center and abandoning the use of eminent domain.

Cavanaugh previously had proposed a six- to eight-story building for the juvenile court, plus renovating an existing office building downtown for the county attorneys and public defenders.

He presented his proposals at a specially scheduled night meeting of the Administrative Services Committee, which he chairs. About 50 people attended, including more than a dozen people who have attended County Board meetings for months to object to the board’s proposal.

That proposal calls for a 10-story courthouse annex and a new Douglas County Youth Center next door to it to replace the current juvenile detention center off 42nd Street.

Proponents, led by County Board Chair Chris Rodgers and board member Mary Ann Borgeson, say the new youth center would be less like a jail than the current one, that it and the new courthouse would be built to modern standards for youth detention and family and juvenile courts. They say putting the new facilities together would increase efficiency and spark further reforms that would lead to fewer youths being placed in detention and to better programs and outcomes for them.

A private, nonprofit corporation would oversee the construction. The Omaha-Douglas Public Building Commission would issue up to $120 million in bonds to pay for the project. The building commission, Omaha City Council and Douglas County Board would have to approve the bond issue, but it would not go to a vote of the public.

Cavanaugh says borrowing the money should go to a public vote. He also opposes the county’s use of eminent domain to acquire an old building at 420 S. 18th Street owned by architect Bob Perrin as part of the site. Cavanaugh said he believes the tower he proposes can be built on land the county already owns at 18th and Harney Streets and would leave Perrin’s building alone.

After the meeting, Mariah Person said she’s heard a lot of talk about buildings and not much about what would go on inside the buildings to help youths . She wants the people behind the competing building proposals to show her the programs.

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Chris Burbach covers the Douglas County Board, Planning Board and other local government bodies, as well as local neighborhood issues. Follow him on Twitter @chrisburbach. Phone: 402-444-1057.

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