The MD Gen Assembly Appropriated $60 million to Build Detention Center to Lock Up 48 Girls at a Time

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Senator James E. DeGrange from District 32 in Anne Arundel County, a member of the Senate Budget & Taxation Committee. DeGrange and the Conference Committee recommended the authorization of $60 million for a juvenile detention center which was passed in the 2018 Budget Bill.

At a cost of $1.25 million per bed, you may think of a luxury penthouse in the heart of Paris, or Donald Trump’s gilded apartment in New York City. Think again. A new facility, breaking ground now in Carroll County at a cost of about $600 per square foot, is being built to detain 48 female children ages 12 to 17. The detainees will be girls charged with crimes who are waiting to go to court or waiting after their sentencing prior to being transferred to a long-term facility. The average stay is about 3 weeks. The facility will be 94,000 gross square feet and 55,000 net square feet (amount of usable space) which amounts to over 1,000 square feet per detainee.

The money for the Carroll County Detention Center (which adds up to exactly $60,115,000), was appropriated in three amendments to the Capital Budget Bill and presented to House Speaker Mike Busch from (District 30 in Anne Arundel County), Senate President Mike Miller, and members of the Maryland General Assembly on March 28, 2018. The budget (Senate Bill 186) passed with all three amendments the same day. The Conference Committee report was presented and signed by five state senators and five delegates including Anne Arundel County’s Ed DeGrange.

According to Matthew Klein, Department of Legislative Services Capital Budget Manager, the project for the detention center has been underway for a number of years, and the money is an augmented re-appropriation of a budget that was previously secured. The money will be split between FY 2020 and 2021 and appropriated to both Juvenile Detention Services for the building cost of $55.9 million and the Department of Public Works, which will receive $4.168 million for easements and utilities.

According to Jay Cleary, Chief of Staff of the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services, the new facility will be built on the grounds of the Thomas O’Farrell Youth Center in Marriottsville, which was closed in November 2008. Cleary said that the new detention center will replace Thomas J.S. Waxter Children’s Center in Laurel. Waxter is at least 60 years old and was not designed with enough space to meet the needs of the programs there, he said.

According to Klein, the appropriation costs are estimates and costs of the actual facility could be higher. Klein said that the 48-bed facility has a 55,000 net square footage and 94,000 gross square footage. Klein attributed the very high square footage cost of the Carroll County facility to a spike in construction costs and said it was much different than building office space. “I don’t believe that there’s any reason to think that it’s not a comparable cost and completely in line with a juvenile services facility,” he said.

However, the Arundel Patriot found a similar facility was recently constructed in Salem, Oregon for $7.3 million at a cost of $237 per square foot and $131,000 per bed.

A Juvenile Detention Facility in Salem Oregon that cost 12% of the Cost of the New Carroll County Facility.

According to the builder’s website, the Oregon juvenile detention facility provides 56 beds, as well as classrooms, intake, visitation, medical, laundry, food service and miscellaneous support spaces.

A representative from the company Gordian, a leading provider of facility and construction cost data based in Massachusetts, was shocked to hear of the cost of the Carroll County facility. He said that the numbers were proprietary for the company data and sold to customers, but the actual cost to build a detention facility is about half of what the Maryland Legislator has appropriated. “You’ve got to be kidding,” he said. “That’s terrible. That’s over a million dollars per bed. That’s ridiculous.”

The cost of construction of the $60 million dollar detention facility is about double the national average and dwarfs a similar center build recently in Salem Oregon.
The cost of construction of the $60 million dollar detention facility is about double the national average and dwarfs a similar center build recently in Salem Oregon.

There was little fanfare and no media coverage save one article in the Carroll County Times on the detention center project after the budget passed in March. Two delegates contacted by the Arundel Patriot who are not on the appropriations committee did not have any idea about the facility.

Chrissy Holt, a businesswoman and health care advocate running for State Senate in District 30, found the detention center line items in the budget while looking into state expenditures. She pointed it out publicly in several recent campaign events. Holt also alerted the Arundel Patriot to the appropriation as well.

“How did this even get through?,” asked Holt rhetorically. “This is an insane amount of money for taxpayers to spend on a 48-bed facility to lock up children. The building cost seems completely out of control,” she said. “We need money for schools, for healthcare and for addiction treatment and many other things to help our communities. We also need to have public transparency to these very high cost expenditures.”

Cleary said that the costs were high because of the special needs of the facility. “This is a special construction facility,” he said. “It’s not built like a house. It has security-grade materials and it’s a different type of concrete structure with big metal doors. What drives these costs is very specialized construction.” According to Cleary, the architectural firms who were given the contract to design the facility are Grimm & Parker, a Maryland and D.C.-based firm and Ricci Green Associates, a firm out of New York City.

“We have a public safety mission and rehabilitation detention facility where young people wait until a bed opens up. They are not there for months and months but we do design our facility to be age appropriate.”

Aron Axe, a candidate for District 30 Delegate, said that he recently learned of the detention center appropriation. “I have to scratch my head here,” Axe said. “I don’t believe that’s the wisest way to spend taxpayer money. Instead of spending $60 million to lock up young women, perhaps we should be investing in programs that provide guidance and mentorship to these girls in ways that reduce recidivism and provide them a decent education so they can become contributing members of society as adults.  This is indicative of a larger issue, where we tend to focus on capital investment solutions instead of on people, because helping people doesn’t appear to be as profitable.”  

Contrasting the expense per child of constructing schools verses the money to be spent on the Carroll County Detention Center. School Construction numbers are from webspm.com.

The construction cost of this new facility in Carroll County is similar to a Baltimore detention center for juveniles being tried as adults that opened eight months ago. According to the Baltimore Sun, that facility cost taxpayers $35 million, is 60,537-square-feet for a cost of $578 per square foot. There are 60 beds in the facility for a cost of $583,000 per bed. However, according to the article, the city has fewer than 20 juveniles a day being detained who are charges as adults, so the facility is not even holding 1/3 its capacity on a typical day.

Repeated attempts to get a statement from Senator DeGrange (who is a member of the Senate Committee on Budget and Taxation) about the detention center were ignored. Maggie McIntosh, Chair of the House Appropriations Committee as well as Mark Chang, a delegate from Anne Arundel County who is on the House Appropriations Committee did not respond to our requests for an interview.

Dawn Lamonica contributed to this report.

Vicky Bruce is an author, filmmaker and editor at the Arundel Patriot.

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Here are the details of the amendments verbatim from the report that Senators James E. DeGrange, Sr., Edward J. Kasemeyer, Douglas J.J. Peters, George C. Edwards, Nathaniel J. McFadden, and Delegates Adrienne A. Jones, Maggie MacIntosh, Aruna Miller, Delegate Tawanna P. Gaines. The entire report is linked here.

Conference Committee Amendment No. 27

On page 83, after line 33, insert: “DEPARTMENT OF JUVENILE SERVICES

VE01 RESIDENTIAL SERVICES

(A) New Female Detention Center. Provide funds to continue design,

continue acquiring easements for utility connections, and begin

construction for a replacement detention facility for female youths on

the grounds of the Thomas O’Farrell Youth Center, provided that

notwithstanding Section 6 of this Act, work may continue on this

project prior to the appropriation of all funds necessary to complete

this project (Carroll County) ……………………………………………………… [15,168,000]

4,168,000”.

 

(A) New Female Detention Center. Provide funds to continue construction

of a replacement detention facility for female youth on the grounds of the

Thomas O’Farrell Youth Center……………………………………………………… 36,272,000”.

 

Conference Committee Amendment No. 36

On page 110, after line 3, insert:

“DEPARTMENT OF JUVENILE SERVICES

VE01 RESIDENTIAL SERVICES

(Carroll County)

(A) New Female Detention Center. Provide funds to continue construction

of a replacement detention facility for female youth on the grounds of the

Thomas O’Farrell Youth Center……………………………………………………… 19,675,000”.

 

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