Nearly a year after legislators balked at building a new $25 million facility for juvenile offenders near Baker, Jindal administration officials said Tuesday they are bowing to cost concerns by looking into renovating the existing space.
Mary Livers, deputy secretary of the Office of Juvenile Justice, said the administration paid roughly $50,000 for an architectural firm to determine how much the renovations would cost at the Jetson Center for Youth.
She said the goal is to replace the campus’ huge dormitories with smaller living areas that are “more homelike, less institutional, less hardened.”
Livers said Carter Goble Lee, with offices in South Carolina and Georgia, is supposed to complete its work within two months. The next step, she said, will be to present the firm’s findings to legislative leaders.
“We’re interested in making some progress out there,” she said.
Five years ago, state officials marked the end of a federal lawsuit over conditions in the state’s juvenile corrections system by promising to create a safe environment with a focus on treatment and education.
Part of that promise includes downsizing the number of offenders that youth facilities house.
Three facilities currently house 367 male juvenile offenders. State officials eventually want to spread that population across five facilities.
A revamped facility is scheduled to open next year in northeast Louisiana. A new $20 million facility is planned for Bunkie.
The construction work is part of the state’s shift to a therapeutic model that emphasizes rehabilitative homes instead of prison-style facilities.
Legislators objected when the Jindal administration went before the state Bond Commission last year with a proposal for a new $25 million facility at Jetson.
Jetson once housed 600 juvenile offenders. Currently, the center houses 77 youths on 25 acres.
Livers said the Jindal administration wants to create a smaller area of space for juvenile offenders to live and to attend school. She said a more contained complex would allow Jetson to downsize from 149 staff members to 90.
Livers said some of the structures at Jetson date to the 1930s, prompting the proposal to build new space. Livers said a compromise might be to gut the old buildings to their shells and create better arrangements of space.
Members of the state Bond Commission, which oversees state construction projects, questioned why existing space could not be renovated.
House Speaker Jim Tucker, R-Terrytown, said the Jindal administration was vague last year on what would happen to the older buildings. He said he does not want to see an empty building sitting next to a new building.
“The slab is still good. The underground plumbing is still good,” he said.
Tucker said it sometimes is cheaper to renovate, especially when the older building is bigger than the contemplated new building.
Livers said the state planned to borrow the money for the new construction and to repay the money with savings gleaned from lower operational costs.
She said she will visit with Tucker and other legislative leaders once the architects tally the cost of renovating.
“My preference is that we get a facility that is conducive for treatment,” Livers said.