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Detention center expansion considered

September 18, 1998|By KERRY LYNN FRALEY

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - The Berkeley County Commission granted conditional approval Thursday to a request to expand the Eastern Regional Juvenile Detention Center in Martinsburg to create needed classroom space.

But the West Virginia Department of Juvenile Services should also consider adding more beds to the overcrowded facility, commissioners said.

"My biggest concern is bed space. We've got 10. That's not enough," said Commission President James Smith, who serves on the Regional Jail Authority.

The planned expansion, either through a modular unit or permanent construction, won't add beds to the facility, designed to house 10 young offenders but currently housing 13, said David Friend, educational liaison for the relatively new department.

The room - preferably an addition - is needed as soon as possible for classroom space, Friend said.

"The classroom space there now is so limited. In reality, it's not much bigger than a bathroom," he said.

Smith agreed it's a nagging need.

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"They're so out of compliance with that, it's just embarrassing," he said.

While classroom space is the priority, more beds could soon follow, Friend said.

The Department of Juvenile Services' goal is to double the number of beds at the state's juvenile detention facilities by summer so it can solve crowding problems and bring back the many West Virginia youth now housed out of state, Friend said.

That will be achieved with a combination of new construction and expansion projects, he said.

It would make sense to multiply the number of beds in Berkeley County, where the population is growing and demand is rising, Smith said.

"What I see is not 10 beds but maybe 40 beds," he said.

In addition to permission for the expansion, Friend asked the County Commission to consider deeding over the building and land along W.Va. 9, which the county now leases to the state.

The commission would consider the request, Smith said.

But considering the limited size of the property and the need for more space by the Berkeley County Sheriff's Department and other agencies housed in the neighboring county complex, it might be better to consider another site, he said.

Smith suggested the current Eastern Regional Jail facility, which will be replaced by a new building next year.

Commissioner D. Wayne Dunham concurred.

"It's a nice 120-bed facility," Dunham said.

Smith said he'd mentioned the idea to state officials, but none have come to check out the facility's potential for housing juveniles.

Friend said he'd like to look at it if the commission could arrange for someone to show it to him.

Smith recruited Mary Kackley, director of 911 in Berkeley County, as the tour guide.

The planned addition to the current juvenile detention center includes classroom space, an office for the new counselor, an infirmary and a storage area, Friend said.

A permanent building is preferable because it would be more secure and durable, he said.

Commissioner Robert L. Burkhart was absent from the meeting.

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