ROYAL, Ark. — The Arkansas National Guard has halted plans to expand its at-risk youth program to a vacant federal facility.

A National Guard spokesman told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that the agency won’t be expanding its Youth Challenge to the Ouachita Job Corps facility because it lacks funding. The facility is about 12 miles west of Hot Springs in Royal.

National Guard Maj. Will Phillips said the agency has increased the program’s capacity by 100 spots to roughly 250 at its current location, incremental growth to test whether a broader expansion is “sustainable.”

“It’s nothing that’s going to blow the budget,” Phillips said. “We’re being fiscally responsible.”

Jim Fram, special projects coordinator for the Greater Hot Springs Chamber of Commerce, said the expansion seemed “doubtful from the beginning.”

“The state, just like everybody else, is kind of strapped (for money),” Fram said. “That wasn’t something that could be readily funded.”

U.S. Rep. Bruce Westerman supported the National Guard program expansion as an alternative to the shelter. Westerman’s spokesman Ryan Saylor said that while it’s disappointing National Guard won’t make use of the site, the congressman’s office understands the financial challenges to such a project.

The youth program offers life-skills lessons to teenagers who struggle in school or have dropped out. The idea to expand the program came in 2016 when the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services considered a separate proposal to convert the facility into a temporary shelter for unaccompanied foreign children apprehended at the U.S. border.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service owns the abandoned property. It was managed by the U.S. Department of Labor the Job Corps program before shutting down in July 2016.


Information from: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, http://www.arkansasonline.com