Delays at new center push back Cheltenham's close

November 07, 2001|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

Plans to close the Cheltenham Youth Facility by March will be pushed back several months because of construction delays at a new center in Baltimore, state Juvenile Justice Secretary Bishop L. Robinson told legislators yesterday.

The Baltimore Juvenile Justice Center was scheduled to be completed next month and to accept young offenders early next year.

But Robinson said work on the building won't be done until April, and officials then will need 30 to 60 days to test various systems -- meaning the center couldn't open until June or early July.

"With that, the Cheltenham facility will remain operational until such time as we're ready to transition the youths to Baltimore," Robinson told a joint hearing of House Appropriations and Judiciary subcommittees.

Advocates have long been calling for the state to close Cheltenham. The southern Prince George's County facility, which opened in 1872 as the House of Reformation for Colored Boys, has been criticized for severe crowding and substandard conditions.

Amid heavy lobbying during this year's legislative session, Robinson announced plans to close Cheltenham and move more youths into community and home-detention programs.

State officials plan to demolish Cheltenham and then rebuild it -- a project that Robinson said will cost more than $30 million.

Robinson said one benefit of the delay in the Baltimore center is that the department will save more than $660,000 in personnel costs.

He said that savings will help him meet almost half of the $1.4 million budget cut imposed by the governor because of Maryland's budget woes.

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