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Published: Friday, 2/10/2006

Senator calls for probe of academy in Wood County

BY ERIKA RAY
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Gardner Gardner
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Responding to residents' concerns, State Sen. Randy Gardner yesterday announced that he has called for the state to investigate a youth academy in eastern Wood County.

Senator Gardner (R., Bowling Green) said he's received phone calls and e-mails from a handful of people who have raised safety concerns regarding the Pemberville Youth Academy on Kahler Road in Freedom Township.

In addition, he said he's been told that there is a petition signed by about 100 people in the area who are "concerned about public safety and the types of backgrounds of the youth that have been placed there without very much structure or supervision."

Questions about the academy's license and original charter also have arisen along with other safety concerns residents have reported locally.

The academy is a 20-bed facility for male juveniles 12 to 17 years old in county custody who have too many problems to live in most foster homes. About a third of the juveniles have experimented with drugs or alcohol and are in counseling or other programs for treatment, said Dennis Hilgeman, executive director of the academy.

Mr. Gardner has been in contact with the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services several times this week to ask questions and obtain information about the academy, and said the next step will be to determine which local or state agencies should be involved in the investigation.

"For me, it's not just responding to a complaint," he said. "It's really raised the issue of whether the laws are strong enough or protective enough to respond to public safety."

But word of the investigation surprised some of those who run the academy.

"I'm a little confused," Mr. Hilgeman said. "We've openly discussed our business at the Freedom Township meetings, and we are inspected and very closely monitored by a licensed representative from the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services."

The academy has had its share of problems since it opened in December, 1980.

Last month, a 15-year-old boy from the group home was accused of sexually assaulting an 8-year-old boy at a South Toledo arcade.

The suspect was charged with delinquency in connection with rape and delinquency in connection with kidnapping after he was accused of luring the boy into a restroom at Nickelworld, 2545 South Reynolds Rd., and sexually assaulting him.

"We've had a couple of incidents, serious incidents - I'm not minimizing that. But in a 27-year history, that's not a bad record," Mr. Hilgeman said.

"We have had hundreds of boys through here successfully who have never caused a problem."

Contact Erika Ray at:

eray@theblade.com

or 419-724-6088.



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