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Consolidation could keep youth services facility in Hempfield open

| Thursday, Jan. 24, 2013, 12:02 a.m.

Westmoreland County officials have consolidated staff at the newly renovated Regional Youth Services Center in a cost-savings move designed to keep the Hempfield facility's doors open.

The dual-purpose facility houses a juvenile detention center and homeless youth shelter, but in the last year, the number of children ordered to serve criminal sentences there has dramatically dropped.

“It'll be more of a shelter outfit now,” said Commissioner Charles Anderson.

Both facilities will be operated by a common staff as part of a consolidation put in place late last week. The detention center and shelter previously operated with separate staffs and administrators.

As part of the move, detention center Director Pete Chapman resigned. Chapman, of Greensburg, worked for the county since 1990 and earned more than $62,000 last year.

Rich Gordon, who ran the eight-bed shelter, will serve as director of both operations, Anderson said.

County Commissioner Tyler Courtney said the decision to shift toward favoring the youth shelter was the reason for Chapman's resignation.

“We discussed it with him and felt a resignation was the best outcome. He didn't fit into the model of what we were doing,” Courtney said.

Commissioners since October have attempted to figure out what to do with the 30-year-old building that two years earlier reopened after a $4.5 million renovation.

The old 24-bed center for troubled youths was recast as a 12-bed detention center with a behavioral unit and new juvenile probation offices and conference rooms.

It was redesigned to include a youth shelter for up to eight runaways and truants.

On Wednesday, the detention center was two-thirds filled, with eight children occupying beds. There were seven juveniles in the shelter, according to officials.

In October, there were days when the detention center had no inmates, prompting the layoffs of four staffers.

“It's not cost-effective to keep operating it the way we have been. This (consolidation) is a cost savings,” Anderson said.

As part of the move, the county will no longer hire a private security firm to patrol the doors and perimeter of the facility. Those duties will be handled by the county's park police.

Commissioners said they have discussed the possibility of shifting the shelter operation to the larger side of the building that currently houses the detention center, essentially swapping the spaces used by the programs.

“It's too early to say what this place will look like a year from now,” said Commissioner Ted Kopas.

Rich Cholodofsky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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