State corrections officials have approved an Orange County plan to build a 120-bed juvenile detention center at its main Juvenile Hall complex in Orange.
The project will replace one formerly proposed next to the Joplin Youth Center in Trabuco Canyon, a plan that was fought by surrounding residents and rejected by a judge in August because of environmental concerns.
County officials feared that the court defeat would mean the loss of an $8.4-million state grant contingent on completing the project by the end of this year.
But the state Board of Corrections last week approved not only the new location for the county's $18-million Rancho Potrero Leadership Academy, but extended the completion deadline to May 31, 2005.
"With the state budget crisis, God only knows when money when be available for this sort of thing again," said Tom Wright, the county's chief deputy probation officer.
Wright said the county wants to raze three deteriorating units with 60 beds at the Juvenile Hall complex and replace them with two "nonsecure" units totaling 120 beds. The facility will house nonviolent offenders who authorities believe can benefit from a program that teaches leadership skills.
Trabuco Canyon's rural setting was previously preferred as the centerpiece of the rehabilitation program, because it would have removed offenders from the influence of urban gangs.
"It would have been much better," Wright said. "We're just going to have to change the program at the academy to fit the urban setting."
The new plan will make only a dent in the county's long-term need for more juvenile detention beds. Because of an expected surge in the teenage population, probation officials estimate that they will need nearly 300 more "nonsecure" beds and 200 more "secure" beds by 2005.
"We're behind the curve," Wright said. "It's an expensive proposition to build juvenile beds.... There's no funding stream for that right now."