Old elementary campus eyed for juvenile justice center

The Nye County School Board may allow an old, unused elementary school campus to become a new juvenile justice center, officials say.

The future of the old Mount Charleston Elementary School will be considered Tuesday during a 6 p.m. board of trustees meeting.

Tom Metscher, Nye County chief juvenile probation officer, is scheduled to make a presentation regarding the proposal, billed as a cost-saving alternative to shipping juveniles 275 miles north to Hawthorne.

Nye County School Superintendent Dale Norton is enthusiastic about the idea, but school board trustee Rob Mosley says he has concerns over security.

Metscher made a presentation to Nye County commissioners in August about using the Northwest Academy, a private boarding school, for at-risk teenagers formerly known as the Horizon Academy in Amargosa Valley, to house non-secure offenders.

It wouldn’t include kids with suicidal tendencies, violent behavior, severe emotional disabilities or any sex offenders. Metscher said the county could still move forward with using the Northwest Academy, which could be more of a short-term solution, it will take more time to work out an arrangement for Mount Charleston Elementary.

In the 2011-12 fiscal year, the county housed 222 juveniles in detention for 2,701 detention days at a cost of $341,487. The county pays $16 per hour for an officer to transport juveniles to Hawthorne. Metscher feels the county could offer more community-oriented services locally.

Marcel Chappuis, owner of the Northwest Academy, said a county commissioner at the August meeting suggested trying to house offenders even closer to home, in Pahrump.

Metscher said the Don Goforth Resource Center in Hawthorne closed Oct. 4, Nye County youth offenders are being housed in alternative programs, like an after school program on weekdays and house arrest. More serious offenders are transported to Fallon, Metscher said a handful of Nye County youths are currently housed there.

Metscher asked the superintendent whether Great Basin College still wanted to use Mount Charleston Elementary.

GBC President Mark Curtis said they have to comply with federal grant entitlements at the High Tech Center that prevent them from moving out of there at this time.

“I told him it’s up for lease, but the problem is the deed on it says it has to be for K through 12 education. The people that deeded it, Preferred Equities, don’t exist any more. We would have to find a way to get that deed restriction off,” Norton said.

“The way I understand this, this would be a juvenile medium to low risk detention facility, where they’re just taken out of their family situation for whatever reason and they would be housed there until their release,” he said.

The superintendent doesn’t feel it would be a security risk.

“They staff it 24 hours a day, which is very attractive to us because I’d have someone on that campus 24 hours a day, which right now is vulnerable. We’re very fortunate we haven’t had a lot of damage there,” Norton said.

The school district could educate the students through alternative education programs or Pathways via computer, or the students could be transported to Pathways, Norton said. He said the offenders could also be serviced by programs that work with juveniles and their families, such as I Can and Eagle Quest.

Norton said with the renovation and addition to Pahrump Valley High School, the school district no longer needs the High Tech Center building in front that’s being used by Great Basin College. The college is focusing now on a deal to acquire property from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management on the southeast end of Pahrump, he said.

“The only concern that I had at first was the concern of the residents in the area. But really they’re not that close, number one. But number two, you have to remember these are low to medium risk kids,” Norton said.

He envisioned juvenile probation even being of assistance to neighbors, putting the juveniles to work doing community service.

“We have to look at the positive side of what we’re doing this for and what’s our goal,” Norton said. “Even though it’s a negative connotation for juvenile probation, it’s a positive thing for our kids that could be taken care of right here in our community.”

Metsher sees Mount Charleston Elementary as a long-term goal. He said dormitories and showers would have to be built at Mount Charleston Elementary and the facility licensed by the state. The plan also would require approval by Nye County Commissioners.

Mobley didn’t share Norton’s enthusiasm for the project.

“I don’t think this is a good idea for the community.” But he added there’s been no community input.

He found the process juvenile probation was going through “dubious,” without providing backup material for the school board meeting, what he called “back dooring” an important proposal.

“What if one escapes? What kind of damage can be done? As a trustee, we hold the public trust. Well, I think I’m upholding the public’s trust by asking serious questions,” Mobley said.

Metscher replied: “The type of kid that goes in that program we’ve used in Hawthorne more often, it’s a lower risk kid, the community’s full of them. We’re not looking at holding hard core, violent, chronic offenders that would really pose a dangerous risk to the immediate community. We would use a secure facility for that.”

Chappuis said the Northwest Academy tries to house between 30 and 40 youths at a time, but it has the capacity for more. Almost all their kids have been in Hawthorne at one time or another, he said, and the Northwest Academy deals with juvenile probation regularly.

“We’ve only actually had one incident when we first opened two years ago; a kid did take off but he actually ran back. If you’ve been out here, there’s really no place to go,” Chappuis said.

The Mount Charleston Elementary School closed in June 2011. Great Basin College suggested a direct exchange of the High Tech Center for Mount Charleston Elementary School. GBC officials wanted a campus with a unique location and identity, separate from the high school; there were also concerns over parking on Calvada Boulevard. Mount Charleston Elementary already has more room, with 22 buildings measuring 43,392 square feet on 10.99 acres.

The old elementary school is already surrounded by fencing. There is a gym and cafeteria.

The Mount Charleston Elementary School campus was valued at $1.9 million in a November 2011 appraisal for the Great Basin College acquisition. The property is zoned for community facilities.

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