Within a year, what is now a mound of red Georgia clay will be home to the new Clayton County Youth Development & Justice Center.
County leaders officially broke ground Thursday on the 65,000 square foot facility that bears a $15 million dollar price tag. It’s set to be completed within 12 months.
The facility, south of Atlanta, which will be built adjacent to the existing Harold R. Banke Justice Center on Tara Boulevard in Jonesboro, will house Clayton County Juvenile and community resource organizations.
"Every other metropolitan county [in Georgia] has gotten another juvenile justice center: DeKalb, Cobb, Fulton, Gwinnett, Douglas and now it's Clayton County's turn," says Clayton's Chief Judge of the Juvenile Court Van Banke, who is set to retire in two weeks. "In this recession I felt that Clayton County didn't have the finances or the horsepower to build it, but the commissioner took charge with SPLOST (Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax) funds and got it done. I didn't think it would happen during my time and here we are breaking ground two weeks before I retire."
Judge Banke praised the county commissioners -- particularly chairman Eldrin Bell -- for pushing the project through. County voters passed a measure to fund the construction of the facility through a one-cent sales tax hike during a 2009 election.
Juvenile Court Judge Deitra Burney-Butler says the facility’s construction is a testament to Clayton’s commitment to its young people.
“This means the world to Clayton County,” she says. “You put your money where your treasure is and this facility shows that in Clayton County we put our children first.”
County Commission Vice Chair Wole Ralph agrees.
“This demonstrates what we believe to be of seminal importance to our county,” he says. “We’ve got a youth development center that deals with the needs of the family and a [nearby] recreation center that deal with the needs of the children. This speaks to what’s so great about Clayton County.”
The current Clayton County Juvenile Court facility is a converted parking garage built in the late 1970s, according to Judge Banke.
Juvenile Court Judge Steve Teske, who emceed the groundbreaking ceremony, calls the facility “a dream come true.”
“You just have to work hard and have faith,” he says.
Judge Teske says the vision for the new facility grew out of a 2001 strategic planning meeting attended by Judge Banke and then Juvenile Court Judge Tracy Graham Lawson, who now serves as district attorney.
Bell says he remembers it well.
“When they brought the idea to me, we had no idea where the money would come from,” recalls Bell. “I immediately joined them in saying it must be done. This project took universal cooperation for it to come together.”
Judge Teske says the building’s design speaks to the county’s “preventative” approach to juvenile justice. The first level of the four-story facility will house offices for community organizations, including the Court Appointed State Advocate (CASA) program, the FAST Panel and QUAD CST programs, along with other community resource organizations. The top two floors will feature the juvenile court and court offices, demonstrative of court being “a last resort.”
“Usually a facility like this is designed to support incarceration; this one is designed to address the issues faced by families,” notes Bell of the center, one attendee referred to as “an awesome building with an awesome purpose.” “This facility puts family and community first.”