The debate over a $114 million Douglas County building project that aims to improve juvenile court services and youth detention will take center stage Tuesday at an Omaha City Council meeting.
The council will hear public testimony on a Douglas County Board proposal to build a new courthouse annex and juvenile detention center downtown. A council vote is scheduled for June 18.
The county and the Omaha-Douglas Public Building Commission have OK’d the project, but they can’t build it without City Council approval of the financing and management details. It’s not certain that they’ll get it.
The project would be funded by public bonds, which would require a property tax increase amounting to about $30 a year on a house with a tax value of $200,000. The construction would be managed by a nonprofit development corporation.
It would be built at the Metropolitan Utilities District headquarters site at 17th and Harney Streets.
The project has three main parts:
- Erect a new eight-story tower to house a new Douglas County Juvenile Court, plus offices for prosecutors and public defenders and community programs. Those current services are now crowded
- in the Douglas County Courthouse and in offices outside of it. Families are now often forced to have difficult personal discussions in public, as there’s no private meeting space to huddle with attorneys or social workers at the current Juvenile Court space. Abused and neglected youths share lobbies with their alleged abusers and share hallways with shackled youths who are accused of crimes.
- Renovate the historic Metropolitan Utilities District headquarters building to use for juvenile probation offices and more services and programming for troubled youths and their families.
- Construct a four-story detention center that would be smaller than the current one at 42nd Street and Poppleton Avenue. That’s the most contentious aspect of the project.
The proposed new center would have 64 beds, a capacity that would shrink if various other reform efforts take root, reducing the number of youths in detention. The current detention center could serve about twice as many youths but has an average population of 75 to 80.
The tower and MUD building renovation would cost an estimated $92 million. The detention center would cost an estimated $27 million, reduced to $22 million because the Susie Buffett-led Sherwood Foundation has conditionally pledged $5 million toward the building. Sherwood also has pledged another $5 million for programs.
Proponents argue that the project is necessary because it would streamline what can be a cumbersome and lengthy juvenile court system, reduce the psychological trauma and recidivism that come with youth detention, better serve youths and their families, and ultimately save money.
They say the smaller size is by design because it’s best to keep youths who aren’t dangerous out of juvenile detention whenever possible.
Opponents cite cost, the downtown location and concerns about fewer beds. The Omaha police union has come out against it, saying it wouldn’t be big enough.
Anthony Conner, union president and an Omaha police officer, said the union is for building a new facility to house juvenile courts and a redesigned detention facility together, but not if that detention center has fewer beds than it does now.
Douglas County Board member Jim Cavanaugh has rallied opposition to the detention center part of the project, saying the existing location, which has space for outdoor recreation, is better and could be refurbished, saving taxpayer money. He has, however, supported the courthouse annex part of the project.
Juvenile reform advocates aren’t waiting on new buildings. Efforts are underway to increase and improve mental and behavioral health services.
Also, a new reception area for nonviolent, low-risk juvenile offenders has been established at the Child Saving Institute in midtown as a way to avoid putting those youths into detention.
Other detention alternatives include more short-term shelter space planned at Uta Halee, which serves at-risk girls in Omaha, and possibly more services and programs at the Omaha Home for Boys.
The City Council meeting will begin at 2 p.m. in the Legislative Chambers of the City-County Building, 1819 Farnam St.
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Water covers a road near Valley, Nebraska, on Friday, March 15, 2019.
Heavy machinery stacks up concrete chunks on the shore of the Elkhorn River at the Q Street bridge as part of an effort to stabilize the bank on the recently flooded river.
Sarpy County Sheriff's Deputy Darin Morrissey rides an ATV through floodwaters in Hawaiian Village.
Omaha Roncalli's Shane Orr celebrates their double overtime win over Aurora during a semifinal game in the Class B Nebraska state basketball tournament at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
The Auburn bench and crowd react to Auburn's Cameron Binder hitting what would be the game winning shot against North Bend Central during the championship game in the Class C1 Nebraska state basketball tournament at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
Creighton's Jordan Hovey (5), right, celebrates hitting a home run with his teammates in the 2nd inning.
Nebraskaâ€™s Adrian Martinez runs out of the end zone after a play during spring football practice at the Hawks Championship Center in Lincoln, Nebraska.
Treyton Gubser, left, and his uncle Daniel Gubser paddle using shovels through the floodwaters after they rescued Daniel's kid's cat, Bob, in Hamburg, Iowa.
Highway 81 is covered in floodwaters south of Columbus, Nebraska.
A Nebraska National Guard helicopter flies over a flooded Waterloo, Nebraska, in March.
Cars drive drive across a flooded Platte River on Highway 50 just north of Louisville, Nebraska.
A Canada goose flies over Matthew J. Placzek's "Monument to Labor" sculpture as floodwaters from the Missouri River begin to recede on the Omaha riverfront.
Floodwaters closed Ave I at North 26th Street in Council Bluffs, Iowa.
A truck drives through a flooded road near the Platte River in April.
Lincoln Pius X's Austin Jablonski holds up the net after his team defeated Omaha Roncalli in the championship game in the Class B Nebraska state basketball tournament at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
Amelia Fritz, right, holds on to her daughter-in-law Tesha Fritz in Glenwood, Iowa. They were evacuated from Pacific Junction, Iowa, after floodwaters hit the town last night. They were part of 15-relatives all staying in the same house or in a camper in the front driveway.
Robert Jones looks around his flood damaged house north of Highway 50, near Louisville,Nebraska. The floor, which is normally a white tile, is covered in mud.
Aurora's Nicholas Hutsell, left, fouls Omaha Roncalli's Alexander Rodgers during a semifinal game in the Class B Nebraska state basketball tournament at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
Lincoln Pius X's Charlie Easley, left, and and Omaha Roncalli's Alexander Rodgers stretch for a loose ball during the championship game in the Class B Nebraska state basketball tournament at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
Humphrey/Lindsay Holy Family's Trent Reardon, left and Jason Sjuts celebrate their victory over Fremont Bergan during the championship game in the Class D1 Nebraska state basketball tournament at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
Aurora's Kaleb Moural wipes the sweat from his face during the second half against Omaha Roncalli during a semifinal game in the Class B Nebraska state basketball tournament at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
Bob the cat looks on from a basket in a boat after being rescued from floodwaters in Hamburg, Iowa.
A vehicle is stuck in floodwaters near 1st Street and Pierce Street in Fremont, Nebraska.
Tim Rockford, left, and David Bauer, tour the Bellwood Lakes neighborhood which was destroyed by the flooding days prior along the Platte River in Bellwood, Nebraska.
Lincoln East's Charlotte Bovaird practices her shot and she and her teammates warm up in the hallways before the start of the game. Lincoln East played Millard South in a Class A first-round basketball game during the girls state basketball tournament at the Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln, Nebraska.
Elkhorn South's Ryee Gray (40) fights for a rebound with Sidney's Meaghan Ross (0).Sidney played Elkhorn South in a Class B first-round basketball game during the girls state basketball tournament at the Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln, Nebraska. Elkhorn South defeated Sidney 51-37.
Westside poses with the championship plaque with the winning score on the wall behind them after Omaha Westside defeated Millard North 54-53 at Omaha Westside in Omaha, Nebraska.
Chris Saenz of Bellevue works out at FIT IN THE CITY in Papillion, Nebraska.
Dymond Meeks leaps across the snow pile in the center of Farnam Street near its intersection with 14th Street in Omaha, Nebraska, as she makes her way to work. Meeks said the snow was terrible. She said it took her 15 minutes to get down the hill her home is located on.
Hazley Eulberg, 10, of Kennard, Nebraska, takes in the trophy display in the Whitetail Kings Collection booth at the Omaha International Boat Sports and Travel Show at the CHI Health Center in Omaha, Nebraska.
The house-made carrot cake is one of the many desserts on the menu at J. Gilbertâ€™s Wood-Fired Steaks & Seafood in Omahaâ€™s Capitol District.
UNO's Mitch Hahn (44), right, grabs a rebound over the top of teammate JT Gibson (0). UNO played South Dakota State in a men's basketball game at Baxter Arena in Omaha, Nebraska.
Norfolk's Annika Harthoorn dives backwards at the start of heat 4 of the girls 100 yard backstroke at the Bob Devaney Sports Center on Friday, Feb. 22, 2019, in Lincoln, Nebraska, during the state swimming prelims.
UNO's Mitch Hahn (44) hugs his mom Kim Hahn following UNO's 85-84 win over South Dakota State. UNO played South Dakota State in a men's basketball game at Baxter Arena in Omaha, Nebraska.
Lincoln Pius X's Katie Stonehocker competes in the girls 200 yard freestyle at the Bob Devaney Sports Center on Friday, Feb. 22, 2019, in Lincoln, Nebraska, during the state swimming prelims.
Jen Freeman, who is training for a 100 mile race, jogs through the snow in Millard, Nebraska. Freeman said that she has to train no matter what the weather.
Mesquite grilled eight-ounce filet with heirloom carrots and burnt end mac and cheese. J. Gilbertâ€™s Wood-Fired Steaks & Seafood serves dinner seven nights a week in Omahaâ€™s Capitol District.
UNO's Matt Pile (40) gets tangled with Western Illinois' Zion Young (1), left and Brandon Gilbeck (52) in the first half as the University of Nebraska at Omaha hosts Western Illinois at the Baxter Arena in Omaha, Nebraska.
Omaha Burke assistant wrestling coach Jesse Peters takes a rest before the start of the semifinals at the CHI Health Center in Omaha, Nebraska, during the Nebraska State Wrestling Tournament. Peters said the nap helps him get through the long tournament days.
South Dakota State's Mike Daum (24) scores a basket against UNO. UNO played South Dakota State in a men's basketball game at Baxter Arena in Omaha, Nebraska.
UNO's Ayo Akinwole (10) drives past Western Illinois' Keshon Montague (22) in the first half as the University of Nebraska at Omaha hosts Western Illinois at the Baxter Arena in Omaha, Nebraska.
Creamed corn with bacon is among many side items on the menu at J. Gilbertâ€™s Wood-Fired Steaks & Seafood in Omahaâ€™s Capitol District.
The UNO basketball team celebrates their 85-84 win over South Dakota State. UNO played South Dakota State in a men's basketball game at Baxter Arena in Omaha, Nebraska.
UNO's KJ Robinson (5) reacts after missing a shot. UNO played South Dakota State in a men's basketball game at Baxter Arena in Omaha, Nebraska.
Omaha Bryan's Ladamien Sturdivant, left, tries to keep a hold on Fremont's Cody Carlson during their Class A 126 pound semifinals wrestling match at the CHI Health Center in Omaha, Nebraska, during the Nebraska State Wrestling Tournament.
Lincoln Pius X's Kara Owens rises from the water as she competes in heat 2 of the girls 100 yard backstroke at the Bob Devaney Sports Center on Friday, Feb. 22, 2019, in Lincoln, Nebraska, during the state swimming prelims.
Hilary Sehring punches the speed bag during an exercise round at 9Round Fitness in Omaha, Nebraska.
Gothenburg's wrestling coach Tom Scott cheers on Gothenburg's Wyatt Hotz as he takes on Lexington's Brady Fago during their 132 pound semifinals wrestling match at the CHI Health Center in Omaha, Nebraska, during the Nebraska State Wrestling Tournament.
Seventh-grade students from Nathan Hale Middle School are reflected in a â€œThe New Negro Escapist Social and Athletic Club,â€ a portrait by Rashid Johnson while touring 30 Americans, an exhibition from the Rubell Family Collection at the Joslyn Art Museum in Omaha, Nebraska. The traveling exhibit of 30 African American artists includes art with themes of slavery, the KKK and an emphasis on the beauty of black lives.
A man clears the snow from the top of a parking garage located near 10th and Jackson Streets in Omaha, Nebraska, after heavy snowfall.
UNO's Zach Jackson (21) delivers a slam dunk as teammate Ayo Akinwole (10) expresses his approval in the second half as the University of Nebraska at Omaha beats Western Illinois 77-63 at the Baxter Arena in Omaha, Nebraska.
Fremont assistant coach Cydney Granger cheers on Fremont swimmer Lauren Gifford in the girls 500 yard freestyle at the Bob Devaney Sports Center on Friday, Feb. 22, 2019, in Lincoln, Nebraska, during the state swimming prelims.
A pedestrian cruises past a sign of seasons to come in the window of Palm Beach Tan, 5417 S. 96th Street in Omaha, Nebraska.
UNO's Ayo Akinwole (10), left, drives around South Dakota State's David Jenkins (5). UNO played South Dakota State in a men's basketball game at Baxter Arena in Omaha, Nebraska.
Jim Stotts, of Glenwood, Iowa, walks a few laps around Stinson Park while passing time before going to see a movie at Aksarben Cinema, in Omaha, Nebraska.
Chris Kotulak, who is the Chief Operating Officer at Fonner Park, demonstrates how to play a PariMAX's historical horse racing game at the Fonner Park executive offices in Grand Island, Nebraska.
Western Michigan's Ethen Frank (26), Lawton Courtnall (10), and Hugh McGing (16) celebrate a goal during the second period of a college hockey game at Baxter Arena in Omaha, Nebraska.
People jog through the snow at Lake Zorinsky in Omaha, Nebraska.
Gage Beins, right, dumps snow on his friend Jeremy Boyd as they goof around in the snow at Lake Zorinsky in Omaha, Nebraska.
Jamie Kotera, 59, of Springfield, Nebraska, who works out five times a week is seen during her strength training workout with personal trainer Tyler Kottas at Better Bodies Fitness in Omaha, Nebraska.
A deer forages for food at Chalco Hills Recreation Area in Omaha, Nebraska, as snow falls.
A red-tailed hawk stands in the grass near 144th Steet and Giles Road in Omaha, Nebraska. He soon took off again as the light changed and traffic began to move.
Intern Daniel Holm, left, works with stage manager Amy Thomas backstage. The two were keeping track of the play as it progressed to know when they needed to make scene changes. Cast members were rehearsing "The Hobbit" at the Circle Theatre in Omaha, Nebraska.
The kimchi ramen at Ika San, new in the Old Market, includes the restaurant's signature crispy pork belly and rich pork broth, plus house-made kimchi, which is fermented cabbage.
Tom Dahir clears the snow from his driveway in Omaha, Nebraska, near the intersection of 97th Street and W. Center Road after a heavy snowfall.
UNO's Zach Jordan (27) and Western Michigan's Cam Lee (28) battle for the puck during the first period of a college hockey game at Baxter Arena in Omaha, Nebraska.
Actor Patrick Brusnahan does his makeup before the start of rehearsal. Brusnahan played the dwarf Bombur. Cast members were rehearsing "The Hobbit" at the Circle Theatre in Omaha, Nebraska.
Diederick Dillon, an Omaha Burke junior, clears snow from his car in the school's parking lot in Omaha, Nebraska. Omaha Public Schools were let out early because of the weather. Dillion said he was headed straight to work, despite being let out of school early.
A woman makes her way to a store as snow falls at Village Pointe in Omaha, Nebraska.
Milliner Margie Trembley designs, constructs and sells hats from her shop called Margie Trembley Chapeaux in Springfield, Nebraska.