Neighbors from Bridgeport’s Virginia Avenue neighborhood traveled to Hartford Tuesday to hand deliver a letter to Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell. The letter from members of the “Derail the Jail” committee asked Rell to consider alternative sites for the $15 million juvenile treatment center for girls.
The Department of Children and Families project was expected to be given the green light later this week by the state Bond Commission, but Rell had a change of heart Tuesday.
Following a press conference by members of Bridgeport’s legislative delegation and neighbors, Rell sent out a press release saying she is willing to delay the project for one month.
“I have heard the complaints of the people,” Rell said Tuesday. “I will give this another shot.”
As far as Rell’s change of heart, state Rep. Chris Caruso, D-Bridgeport, said it is a “short term victory.“
“While we appreciate the decision by the Governor to delay for one month a vote by the state Bond Commission, the next step is for all appropriate parties to meet and select an appropriate alternative site,“ Caruso said.
The state has already spent about $1 million cleaning up and preparing the vacant 2.75 acre site for construction of the new building, but Rell said if viable alternatives are offered the state will consider them.
“The alternatives I saw were not large enough,“ Rell said. “Perhaps there is still a suitable alternative out there, but time is running out. These girls are in need of a suitable treatment site – and they have been for years.”
Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch said Tuesday that the city has offered the state two other sites, but Department of Children and Families Commissioner Susan Hamilton said both properties were too small.
She said one was about 0.75 acres while the other was 1.2 acres. The Virginia Avenue location is 2.75 acres and the state needs at least 2.5 acres.
“There’s a misconception about what this is going to look like,“ Hamilton said. She said it may have been naïve of her, but she thought the neighborhood would be happy the state was getting rid of a vacant lot and replacing it with a building that looks “like a school.“
Opponents of the facility have called it a “jail.”
“It’s really a treatment facility,” Hamilton said. She said she thinks opponents are using the word ‘jail” to help them with their position.
“This important facility should be located at a more appropriate site,” Finch said. He said the Virginia Avenue location is one of Bridgeport’s “healthiest” neighborhoods.
He said while he’s willing to work with the state on finding a new site, he still wonders why cities like Bridgeport, New Haven, and Hartford have to host these types of facilities.
“I’m tired of having facilities like these automatically placed in the city of Bridgeport,” Finch said.
“We would love for a suburban community to take this,” Caruso said. “There’s a lot of other communities that frankly have not shouldered the responsibilities that Bridgeport has.”
“If it’s such a great facility, why not put it in other towns,” Finch said.
Hamilton said the Bridgeport site was chosen because they wanted the site to be in a city, on a bus line, and big enough to accommodate the programmatic needs of the girls.
The 36,000-square-foot center will have 16 secure beds and 8 beds for girls transitioning from the secure center back to community residential facilities.