The existing Douglas County Youth Center has adequate space, the center’s director, Brad Alexander, said at a public hearing Tuesday afternoon. Still, he didn’t oppose or endorse the county’s plans for a $120 million new juvenile justice center downtown.
“I have no idea what’s being proposed to be honest with you,” he told Douglas County Board member Jim Cavanaugh, who questioned him about his preferences for a future facility as well as the capacity and amenities of the current Douglas County Youth Center, near 42nd and Woolworth Streets.
“That’s unfortunate,” Cavanaugh said.
Cavanaugh, who has been the Douglas County Board’s lone opponent of the justice center plans, called the Administrative Services Committee hearing in a packed conference room Tuesday afternoon because of his qualms with the project: He has said it’s too expensive, the details remain murky, it’s happening too quickly and there’s been a lack of communication with the public and key stakeholders, like Alexander, who runs the current youth center.
Proponents have said that the public will have plenty of opportunities to weigh in on the project and that the county needs to move fast. Their arguments: The Douglas County Courthouse is out of space. The need is urgent.
The board voted 6-1 to move the project along earlier this month.
Tuesday’s hearing was the first in a series that Cavanaugh said he plans to host between now and Labor Day. His goal, he said: to come up with a less-expensive, “more common-sense” alternative proposal to the county’s proposed new juvenile justice center plans. He has ideas, but he wants input from all stakeholders and community members, he said.
The county’s current plans call for erecting two buildings and a parking garage southwest of 18th and Harney Streets. A 10-story tower would have juvenile courtrooms, juvenile court judges’ offices, juvenile and family court services, and the Douglas County Attorney’s and Public Defender’s Offices. The other building would be a new juvenile detention center.
Alexander and Mark LeFlore, manager of administrative services at the youth center, answered questions from Cavanaugh during Tuesday’s hearing.
Cavanaugh also invited members of the public to ask questions and provide ideas. Those who spoke echoed his concerns and made suggestions that ranged from building a new center at a different site to keeping the center as is.
Several asked why the county was considering a new center at all.
“(The existing youth center) has sufficient capacity,” said Allison Wade, a resident who attended the meeting. “I don’t see how you can ask all of us to give you ideas for a problem that doesn’t exist.”
As proposed, the new detention center would be built to house a maximum of 64 youths. That’s fewer than the average daily number of youths, 70, currently being held at the Youth Detention Center. And it’s less than half the current juvenile detention center’s capacity of 144.
Proponents of the project have said safety concerns at the current cramped courthouse as well as those associated with transporting youths from midtown to downtown for court hearings necessitate a new center. But none spoke at the hearing, and no other members of the Douglas County Board were in attendance.
The next hearing will be Aug. 2 at 1 p.m. in the legislative chambers of the City-County Building at 1819 Farnam St.