ADRIAN - More than 500 people turned up at an emotional public hearing last night to protest the proposed closing by the state of the 123-year-old Adrian Training School, which employs 127 Lenawee County residents.
"We have a 123-year history of welcoming these youths to this community," said Jae Guetschow, a member of a local group formed to keep the facility in Adrian. He was one of more that 25 speakers at the three-hour hearing at the Christian Family Centre.
The Michigan Bureau of Juvenile Justice announced in a report released in March that it was considering closing the school, a 100-bed facility that houses and strives to rehabilitate problem youths and adults, ages 12 to 21.
Last night, bureau Director J. Kenneth Hales was more assertive: he wants to close the Adrian facility and move the 52 females and 32 males presently living there to a more modern facility at Whitmore Lake, Mich., where they would construct a new training facility for the female residents.
Mr. Hales said the bureau is consolidating facilities because enrollment has dropped 50 percent since 1999 and its budget has been drastically reduced. The bureau's budget was cut by $9 million this year and will be slashed another $3 million next
Further, in the future, youths in the bureau's system, though fewer, will be more problematic and require more intensive treatment in more modern facilities, according to Mr. Hales.
"[The budget cut] has to come out of something," he said. "The question is how do we do it in a way that we can keep our values and our vision. Our goal is to put these kids in the most efficient and safest facility and embrace the opportunities consolidation provides."
Those comments did not sit well with many in the audience, who cheered and clapped as one speaker after another tried to persuade Mr. Hales to change his mind.
"Fancy new state-of-the-art buildings do not make for an effective treatment program," said Beverly Larsen, who worked 28 years in the training school's recreation department before retiring two years ago. "You don't work there because the pay is good. You work there because you care about the job."
Although the school's students were prohibited from speaking, a number of them passed out literature in front of the center and several teachers and parents spoke on their behalf.
Renee Petro said she spent thousands of dollars on rehabilitation programs for her troubled son, Nick Weedon, but nothing worked until he was placed at the training school.
"It saved his life," she said of her 18-year-old son, a former drug dealer, addict, and convicted thief who graduated first in his class and is heading to college.
The training school first opened in 1881 as a home for runaway girls and prostitutes. Bureau officials have said they can save $5 million by moving the youths to Whitmore Lake and make up to $500,000 by selling the Adrian property.
The bureau has spent more than $5 million renovating the Adrian facility in recent years, causing Adrian Mayor Sam Rye to question the wisdom of the proposed move.
"I just don't think it was good planning. It's not a wise use of taxpayers funds," he said in an earlier interview.
State Rep. Doug Spade (D., Adrian) had a harsher opinion last night about the speed with which the decision to close the school has been made.
"[The proposal] is full of holes. All sorts of figures just plain do not makes sense. There was an agenda for someone in criminal justice to move this thing under the radar," he said.
In its report, the justice bureau had said the school closing, if approved, could begin this spring. But that timetable appears to have been delayed, officials said.