Construction advances at new Youth Study Center site

It’s a steel-gray morning, and the streets around 48th and Haverford are just beginning to dry out after a fierce late-summer thunderstorm. On the site of the city’s new Youth Study Center, workers aren’t waiting for the puddles to go away before getting back on the job.

There’s no time to waste on a project that’s already two years behind.

Originally planned for completion in October, the juvenile detention facility now won’t be ready until February, 2013, NewsWorks has reported. In the meantime, the YSC will remain in a temporary site in East Falls at the site of the former Eastern State Psychiatric Institute on Henry Avenue, as the new campus begins to take shape on a 5-acre West Philadelphia site.

Construction is on an accelerated schedule that sees some building trades working Saturdays, said Charles Campbell, senior project manager for The Temple Group Inc. The goal now is to get the building enclosed and under a roof before winter comes around again, he said.

Behind a wall and an access drive that will encircle the property will sit the two-story, 166,000 square-foot building by KMD Justice, designers of several other adult detention, correctional and juvenile justice facilities.

Public entry comes off of 48th Street, with youths brought into the facility through a secure vehicle sally port next to a 200-space parking lot. The first floor will include rooms for counseling, medical examinations and meeting visitors. There are classrooms for school work and a full-sized gymnasium, arranged around a central outdoor track and meditation garden.

The second floor will include a suite for courts, including a hearing room and space for administrative offices. As many as 150 juveniles can be housed in two general residential wings and a third special housing unit.

From the street, renderings show what looks like a school. There’s no razor wire and no guard tower, though there will be security. That’s all by design.

“This is not a jail,” Campbell said.

The Youth Study Center is under the Department of Human Services, and while it is a secure place for the detention of arrested juveniles and those awaiting trial, it also features a Philadelphia School District curriculum under the direction of Principal Margaret Holloman.

The central idea, said Timene Farlow, a deputy DHS commissioner, is to use whatever time the kids brought to YSC to stay there to teach them, offer counseling, physical and mental health evaluation, and a step on a path to rehabilitation.

About 5,000 teens ages 13 to 18 come through the YSC each year, after arrest and while awaiting the court’s disposition of their case, Farlow said. The average length of stay is about nine days, and during that time, Holloman has exposed students to programs in things like music and robotics, Farlow said.

“Make no mistake, [the YSC] is detention and it is secure. Kids cannot get out of it,” Farlow said. “But while they’re with us, we’re going to take advantage of every opportunity we have to install life skills and education.”

The delay in moving to the new site hasn’t made things easier at the current location, which holds about 103 juveniles and is often full; both city officials and East Falls residents are eager to see the facility move on. And memories of chronic overcrowding and poor conditions at the original YSC site on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, at what is now the Barnes Foundation, linger.

A switch in the general contractor on the project, with accompanying delays while that contract was re-bid, combined with two brutal winters, changed the timetable.

The city ended its contract with the original contractor, Ernest Bock & Sons Inc., in June 2011 amid an investigation by the City Controller’s office into non-compliance with minority and women contract requirements. Thomas Elsasser, legislative assistant to Deputy Mayor Everett Gillison, said it was the first time the city had ended a contract “terminated for convenience.”

In a settlement, Bock agreed to a ban on bidding on city-related contracts until April, 2012.

Through a special Equal Opportunity Plan on the YSC project, 10-percent of trade jobs on the work site are guaranteed to workers who live in five West Philadelphia ZIP codes.

Contact Amy Z. Quinn at

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