OPINION

Strandell's The County Line - Be careful what you might ask for

Submitted by Warren Strandell
Crookston Times

    Be careful about what you might ask. To that statement, the staff of Red River Valley Juvenile Center (RRVJC), the administrators of Tri-County Community Corrections, and those of us who serve on the Regional Corrections Board can say amen.

    The “careful what you ask for” reference regards what happened in Crookston on Friday, May 14.

    It was then that one inch or more of rain came down in an hour or less. The rain was definitely needed but not at the Red River Valley Juvenile Center (RRVJC) where a roof replacement project was underway.

    With the downpour, water ran wildly into the building through exposed areas of the roof. Pretty much everything on the “residential side” of the center was destroyed. In addition to the suspended ceilings and the sheetrock walls was damage to the security system that controls the doors and to all the other of equipment based in the electrical room.

    During a first inspection of damage, it was found that the regular outlets were hot to the touch. Also, the door handles. Not good. Power to the center had to be shut down. Beds had to be found for the kids who were being held there and were available anywhere in Polk County.

    It has been determined that everything in the “residential side” of the center will have to be replaced. The area will have to be gutted to the exterior walls in preparation for a start-over rebuild.

    But even with that there are positives.  

    One, since all of the ceilings and walls on the residential side of the center will have to be removed, the area can be redesigned. There are things that can be arranged better with a start over of the floor plan. An architect will be used.

  Two, the “secure side” of the center, which by contrast had much less damage, has the potential to be returned to use as early as July. It can likely be appropriately restored. As for the residential side, a fall return to use might be optimistic.

    The Polk County Law Enforcement Center building — to which the Juvenile Center adjoins — was not affected. Its roof was not being replaced. The roof project stops right where the two operations meet. Things would have been a lot worse if, say the county’s Dispatch Center would have been affected.

    When the Juvenile Center became unfit for the 10 juveniles who were there at the time, it was determined that two of them had could be released to their families. Beds for the other eight were arranged at the Northwest Minnesota Juvenile Center in Bemidji.

    For RRVJC, having to house juveniles in another facility becomes very expensive. Take about $280 a day for those needing secure housing and about $200 a day for those needing residential space.

    That’s not all of the financial issues. The income that Tri-County Community Corrections receives for housing juveniles from the non-member counties — upwards of $80,000 a month — has been lost.

    There is also the issue of the employment of the 12 youth counselors who work at the center. With the center shut down, they have no regular duties.

    Tri-County Community Corrections administrators are offering these employees appropriate assignments at the Northwest Regional Corrections Center jail. This will keep them employed and their benefits intac. Counselors have the option instead of being furloughed. This will qualify them for unemployment benefits but by being furloughed their benefits — health insurance — would be interrupted.

    There is also the subject of insurance. In the bidding process, contractors are required to have insurance. But how much of the loss will be covered by insurance… just the building damage? Should insurance cover the loss of income? Should the contractor have had a backup plan to protect against a weather event? Was the rainstorm an act of God? Isn’t all weather an act of God? Lots of questions.

    As the building owner, Polk County has insurance through Minnesota Counties Intergovernmental Trust, a statewide organization that provides insurance coverage for its members. Will that coverage provide anything for lost revenue? Will legal representation be needed?  Silly question. Of course, it will be and it has already been arranged.

    So goes an upsetting time in the lives of Tri-County Corrections administrators, Juvenile Center staff, and the Regional Corrections Board members. It is upsetting for the  kids, too.  Beyond having been in situations where they needed to spend time at the Red River Valley Juvenile Center, they have now been farmed out to some other strange place… and for who knows how long. Family visitations and services have been uprooted.

    So, be careful about what you might ask, especially if it has to do with a roofing project.

    Thoughts expressed in this column are those of the author and are not necessarily a reflection of the opinions of the other members of the Polk County Board of Commissioners