About 90 government officials, state and local law enforcement and representatives from the Kenai Courthouse were on hand for the dedication Friday of the $4.3 million Kenai Peninsula Youth Facility on Marathon Road in Kenai.
The facility, which will open "as soon as possible," according to emcee Barbara Henjum, superintendent of the McLaughlin Youth Facility in Anchorage, is the first youth corrections facility on the peninsula. Until now, juvenile offenders were taken to McLaughlin.
"This youth facility will fill a gap in our juvenile justice system on the Kenai Peninsula and enable state and local law enforcement to be more efficient," said Lt. Gov. Loren Leman.
"I just toured the back and as beautiful as this facility is, it's a reminder of why you wouldn't want to live here," Leman said, referring to the 10 jail cells in which young offenders will be housed.
The cells feature a concrete slab for sleeping, a concrete platform for writing, a stainless steel stool affixed to the floor and stainless steel commode and wash basin. A thin mattress will be provided.
"Juveniles who come here are at a point in their life when they need us most. It provides hope," Leman said. "I'm thankful for having the Kenai Youth Facility here to help youth as they transition back into society."
Built in just under 16 months by G&S Construction of Soldotna, the youth facility provides secure detention services and a central booking area for juveniles on the peninsula, as well as office and interview space for the peninsula's Juvenile Probations operations.
Also, in conjunction with the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District, the facility includes a fully equipped classroom so juveniles, while being detained, will be able to remain current with their educational curricula, according to Kim Smith, peninsula district supervisor of Juvenile Probations.
Smith said the classroom also will be used for juveniles who are on long-term suspension or expulsion status from peninsula schools.
"With this facility, we will be able to bring in counselors, families and the kids' attorneys to meet with the kids," Smith said.
The new facility also includes a nurse's office with an examining room, a lunchroom that can serve as a multipurpose room, a kitchen, a game room and an outdoor exercise area equipped with a basketball hoop and backboard. A high fence topped with barbed wire rims the exercise area.
When the youth facility first opens, meals will be catered. The opening is projected for sometime in October.
During the dedication ceremony, Pete Sprague, borough assembly president and chair of the youth facility planning committee, said, "It's a beauty.
"Have we been successful in our efforts? Not yet. If a kid spends time here and turns his life around, we've succeeded."
Division of Juvenile Justice Director Patty Ware said, "We're responsible for sending youth back out into the community as better individuals. This building is only one piece of what we're going to do for youth."
She thanked the Kenai community for its support in the youth facility project. The city donated 10 acres of land on which the facility is built.
During the ceremony, Ware presented certificates of appreciation to about two dozen people who helped complete the project.
The program began with the a capella singing of "Star-Spangled Banner" by Kenai Central High School students Elena Bird, Synneva Hagen-Lillevik and Audrey Coon and ended with a ceremonial ribbon cutting by Leman, Ware, Henjum, Sprague, State Rep. Mike Chenault, Department of Health and Social Services Commissioner Joel Gilbertson and other dignitaries.
Also attending the ceremony were Mayor John Williams and police Lt. Kim Wannamaker, representing Kenai; Police Chief John Lucking Jr. and Sgt. Todd McGilli-vray from Soldotna; Kenai Superior Court judges Harold Brown and Charles T. Huguelet; and Kenai Peninsula Alaska Juvenile Justice Advisory Committee representative Carol Brenckle.
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