County considers options for new youth services facility

The Bartholomew County Council and county commissioners have agreed to hire a consultant to help them determine the future of the deteriorating Youth Services Center, 2350 Illinois Ave., a facility used to house juvenile offenders.

While nobody can be sure what the consultant will charge, council president Jorge Morales says $50,000 has been set aside for that purpose.

Everybody recognizes something has to be done with the aging facility, Morales said. “The commissioners don’t want to put any more money into the building.”

“Remodeling is probably out of the question,” council member Mark Gorbett added.

“The current building was never built or really intended to be used as a detention center,” commissioner’s president Larry Kleinhenz said.

A number of Indiana counties have chosen to close their juvenile shelters in favor of outsourcing to regional detention centers, Gorbett said.

If Bartholomew County does choose to outsource services to a regional facility, Gorbett said it would have ripple effects throughout the community – especially within the county’s judicial system.

While discussions are at an early stage, Bartholomew Circuit Court Judge Kelly Benjamin did meet with Kleinhenz, Gorbett and county council member Matt Miller to begin discussing the future of the center.

“Together, we felt we needed a professional examination on what our needs are,” Kleinhenz said.

“We want to make sure whatever we build will last for 50 years,” Gorbett said. “Consulting is an inevitable path that we need to go down.”

The center was discussed at Monday’s county council meeting. The county commissioners may now begin the process of searching for and recruiting a consultant, but that could take several months, Morales said.

“I don’t think we will start building a new facility until at least 2025,” said Morales, who says the earliest a new facility can open is probably 2026.

“It’s important that we understand the separation of authority on this issue and work together,” Kleinhenz said. “Judges are in charge of the programming at the facility, along with the council, because they decide which programming to fund.”

In contrast, the commissioners are responsible for constructing or maintaining county-owned buildings.

Gorbett said if a decision is made to build a new facility, most county officials would like to see that it fits needs for at least 50 years.

But Kleinhenz said all parties also have to be concerned with what taxpayers can afford.

“If the county is going to continue to be in this business, I feel that we must cash flow the center and not rely on taxpayers to fund it,” Kleinhenz said. “Other counties have critical, real needs that a new center must and can provide.”

The state has stepped up with payments for these services that will make it easier for the commissioners to support, he said.

Center history

The current Bartholomew County Youth Services Center was originally constructed as the Bartholomew County Children’s Home. It was built to replace the Frances Comfort Thomas Children’s Home built at 141 S. Cherry St. in 1892.

Built at a cost of $396,000, the children’s home opened on Aug 1, 1967. It wasn’t until October, 1992, that the facility became the Bartholomew County Youth Services Center, operating under the direction of former judge Steve Heimann.

In January 2013, the Youth Services Center came under the umbrella of Court Services. It currently serves as a shelter for abused, neglected or status offenders in need of short term placement. The center is also used for the detention of youth placed by court order, or who are being charged with an offense that poses a significant danger to public safety.

Other services include day treatment, juvenile house arrest and a cognitive behavioral program. The director of Youth Services is Mariah Lucas-Georges.