"Our predecessor obviously had big plans," Bednark said as he flicked on the lights in a 151-seat auditorium. When it was shuttered, Bowling Brook had been constructing a vast work force training center, which included fully equipped metal and woodworking shops.
Bednark said he has been talking to Carroll Community College about having night programs there, separate from the juvenile offenders.
"There's Maryland taxpayer money in this," he said. "It would be a shame to have it go unused."
The Department of Juvenile Services limited Rite of Passage's capacity to 48 youths - parallel to the cap on state-run facilities. To expand, the company would need the approval of Juvenile Services and the Board of Public Works, made up of the governor, treasurer and comptroller.
Some lawmakers, including Sen. Bobby A. Zirkin of Baltimore County, tried to outlaw the growth of any private provider beyond 48 beds. One after another, child advocates testified in favor of the legislation. The only group to oppose it was Rite of Passage, which in the past year and a half has spent about $50,000 on lobbyists, including Josh White, a former O'Malley government aide and campaign manager, according to ethics filings.
The legislation failed.
Zirkin compared the lobbying to that of the cigarette companies or public utilities. "It was yet another sad episode in the history of juvenile justice in this state. Money is being made on the backs of kids by those who were able to influence the legislative process."
DeVore, who strongly advocated for the 48-bed limit on state-run facilities, does not want a similar cap for providers, his spokeswoman said, to allow him discretion in determining the best size for each place.
The secretary said Rite of Passage is a good program. But he has also assured state officials that it is not in the state's long-term juvenile justice plan.
Before approving the company's license at last month's Board of Public Works meeting, State Treasurer Nancy Kopp asked for an assurance that DeVore views Silver Oak as "an interim facility."
"That's correct," DeVore told her.
Child advocates see it differently.
"What we seem to now be doing is rebuilding a system that never works and can't work," said Matthew Joseph, director of Advocates for Children and Youth, a Baltimore-based nonprofit.
The Board of Public Works approved a three-year, $9.8 million contract with Rite of Passage, though Comptroller Peter Franchot voted against it.
McComb said the company has been honest about its desire to be larger. "The mathematics just don't work for 48 kids," he said.
For now, though, Bednark said the company knows it is "locked into serving 48 kids." Asked about whether Silver Oak will seek to expand, he replied, "Our track record will speak for itself, and it will speak positively."