Youth center site chosen

Posted: Sunday, March 19, 2000

The state's contractor has revised its analysis but not its conclusion about the choice between possible sites for the proposed central peninsula youth detention center.

"ECI/Hyer completed the review and modified the scores somewhat," wrote Janet Clarke, administrative services director for the Department of Health and Social Services. "However, the overall score again points to the Kenai site as preferable."

The state hired ECI/Hyer to help choose between two possible sites for the central peninsula detention center. One is a 9-acre lot the city of Soldotna owns by the Alaska State Troopers office on Kalifornsky Beach Road. The other is a 10-acre lot the city of Kenai owns by the Alaska Regional Aircraft Fire Training Center on Marathon Road. The two sites were recommended by a local committee including law enforcement, borough and city representatives, and chaired by Kenai Peninsula Borough Assem-bly member Pete Sprague of Soldotna.

ECI/Hyer compared them based on factors ranging from privacy and screening to distance from primary roads and facilities such as food and laundry services, medical facilities, arrest areas, fire protection, airports and courts.

It recommended the Kenai site in December, and the state concurred. Areas of low ground, a high water table and a triangular shape limit buildable space on the Soldotna parcel, the contractor said. The recreational area across Kalifornsky Beach Road was a concern, ECI/Hyer said, and the lot's narrow shape could limit the state's ability to screen the detention center from public view.

In January, though, Sprague and Sen. John Torgerson, R-Kasilof, questioned the contractor's scoring. The Soldotna site has adequate room for expansion, they wrote, and its proximity to the troopers should mitigate concern for proximity to the recreational area.

"Our review adds at least nine points to the Soldotna site, which would make it the higher-ranked location," they wrote.

Subsequent review by HCI/Hyer added several points for Soldotna, but not enough to change the outcome. Clarke said available space still is a prime reason for the state's choice of the Kenai site.

Since the state built the McLaughlin Youth Center in the 1960s, she said, the University of Alaska, Providence Hospital and other facilities have grown up around it. Improvements planned by the Alaska Mental Health Trust will use the last land available for expansion, she said. Likewise, the detention center in Juneau has grown to occupy all available space.

"Some places where we've located these facilities and things have grown up around them, we find ourselves stymied for future expansion," she said.

Sprague said he is disappointed, but feels HCI/Hyer gave fair consideration to the issues he and Torgerson raised.

"I'm glad any questions we had were addressed," he said. "I'm ready to move on."

Soldotna city manager Tom Boedeker questioned the criteria used to score the sites, but said that this time, at least, HCI/Hyer did a better job of explaining its rationale.

Boedeker had argued previously that Soldotna Police already take adult prisoners to Wildwood Correctional Complex near Kenai, and each trip takes an officer off the streets for several hours. It would be fairer to split the burden with Kenai by putting the youth detention center in Soldotna, he said.

There is little chance of building the center this year, though. Gov. Tony Knowles did not include the estimated $3 million in construction money in his budget request to the Legislature.

So far, Clarke said, the House has not even put money in its budget to operate the new Matanuska-Susitna Borough youth detention center, which should be finished by April. Nor has it included money to operate the proposed detention center in Ketchikan, which should be built by March 2001.

Kenai Mayor John Williams said local officials never expected the central peninsula detention center would be built this year, anyway.

"We do expect to get the engineering and design work done, so that we have it ready to build," he said. "With luck, we'll find the money to build it next year."

Williams said he plans to visit Karen Perdue, commissioner of the Department of Health and Social Services, next week to discuss the options. Sprague said he also will do some lobbying in Juneau. Clarke said the Department of Health and Social Services will try again next year to get construction money included in Knowles' budget request.

Meanwhile, Boedeker said the state and the local committee have discussed centralizing services such as counseling and drug and alcohol treatment at the proposed detention center.

"But the money isn't there to do all those other things," he said. "Now that they've got a location, they'll have to talk about exactly what they propose to build, what it's going to house, and what can be funded."

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