MOORHEAD — A juvenile detention center here will unveil a modernized facility with double the capacity later than expected, meaning those who use it must deal with tight quarters for a bit longer.
A $7.5 million expansion and renovation project has been underway since the spring of 2018 on the West Central Regional Juvenile Center, which serves youth from 11 counties in west-central Minnesota, including Clay County, and neighboring Cass County in North Dakota.
The project was supposed to be done this fall, but is now looking at a February 2020 completion, according to Tom Fuchs, project manager with Construction Engineers. The general contractor also worked with Clay County in building its new joint law enforcement center and jail nearby, which both opened last year.
The juvenile center has proven the most challenging of the three, he said, because they're incorporating an existing building constructed in the 1970s. “You find things that aren’t up to code, and they need to be fixed under the project,” Fuchs said.
Employees of the juvenile center, at 729 11th St. N., are getting anxious to move into the new quarters.
The center provides a secure space for juveniles who have been arrested for crimes, or are dealing with behavioral or delinquency issues.
Superintendent James O’Donnell said virtually every day, the center turns down requests from law enforcement and social services to place juveniles in its nonsecure unit. In 2018, two Clay County youth and 67 out-of-county youth were turned away, county records show.
When a youth is turned away, an officer might transport them to Bemidji, Willmar or the Twin Cities area for the night, then pick them up the next day for a return trip. Juveniles must be seen by a judge within 36 hours of being detained, he said.
The center’s nonsecure unit has 15 beds, all of which are full. When construction is complete, it will have 33 beds.
The secure unit has 32 beds, which are also full. However, the center can access overflow space in Cass County and has seven juveniles staying there now.
“It provides us a lot of leeway to get through this construction phase because when you’re turning people down, it adds a huge stress on law enforcement,” O’Donnell said.
The secure unit will have a total of 64 beds when the remodeling is done. A refreshed gymnasium, demonstration kitchen and larger classrooms are also part of the plans for the youth who attend school there each day.
“By spreading things out, we can individualize things more, and we can do better at what we’re currently doing,” he said.
O’Donnell is also excited about a new transitional living skills program that will be offered at the center. It will help juveniles integrate back into the community when they leave, instead of “you’re out on your own,” he said.
Fuchs said in mid to late August, the second phase of the three-phase project should be complete, allowing them to move residents into the finished areas while the remainder of the work wraps up.