State intends to build new secure juvenile facility in Vergennes

By TIFFANY TAN

VtDigger

Published: 05-20-2024 4:06 PM

The Vermont Department for Children and Families formally announced Thursday it intends to build a secure youth facility in Vergennes, a project that would replace the state’s juvenile detention center shuttered in 2020.

The proposed facility, named the Green Mountain Youth Campus, would be built on state property off Comfort Hill Road. The campus would be constructed by a private firm working with the state, state officials said.

The campus, the department said in a press release, is designed to house young people who have gotten into trouble with the law and have trauma or treatment needs that community resources aren’t equipped to address.

The facility would run two programs that can accommodate a combined 14 residents. One program, with eight beds, would serve youth in immediate crisis, working to stabilize them before moving them to a treatment setting.  The second program, with six beds, would offer ongoing treatment for those who need to remain in a secure environment.

Vermont’s last juvenile detention center, the Woodside Juvenile Rehabilitation Center in Essex, closed in October 2020 following lawsuits that alleged staff’s “excessive” use of restraints and a dwindling number of juveniles being housed there. Woodside had a capacity of 30 residents. 

The state had planned to set up a six-bed secure juvenile facility in Newbury, but abandoned the project after facing fierce opposition from local officials and residents. The issue had been brought all the way up to the Vermont Supreme Court, where the state prevailed. 

Vergennes has now been chosen as the location for the new facility largely because of state-owned land in the city and the area’s natural beauty, said Chris Winters, commissioner of the Department for Children and Families.

“Both the campus and the program will highlight the evidence supporting the power of nature to promote healing,” he said in the release. “The focus will be on therapeutic treatment that is trauma-responsive and evidence-based. These kids are here because they need help in a specialized setting.” 

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If the developer is able to get all the necessary municipal permits, department spokesperson Nellie Marvel said they anticipate construction work to begin in 2025. She did not provide a target opening date for the facility.

“It will be a few years before the campus is operational,” Marvel said in a statement.

Vergennes Mayor Chris Bearor and City Manager Ron Redmond did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday afternoon about the juvenile facility. Though Bearor told WCAX earlier this month that he hopes community members would keep an open mind to the project and engage with proponents.

Following a bidding process, the state selected the real estate company ReArch to develop the youth campus. The project would be overseen by the state Department of Buildings and General Services, which will have jurisdiction over the finished facility.

As the state develops its plans for the campus, officials plan to hold a series of public forums to hear community members’ concerns. The first forum will be held at the Vergennes Opera House at 6 p.m. on June 5.

The Department for Children and Families said it will be providing additional information about the project on its website, at dcf.vermont.gov/gmyc.