April, 24 2018
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Illinois School May be Used as a Residential Treatment Center
Aetna Elementary School, valued at $285,610, appears headed for the auction block and possible reincarnation as a residential treatment center for troubled teens.
The 68,000-square-foot building has been closed and idle since 2004.
However, five school leaders expressed support this week for psychologist Ronald Ruff's long-held dream of creating a transitional facility in Lake County for troubled youth at the school.
It would serve 50 to 60 troubled teens, who've become wards of the state due to criminal problems or problems at home.
Why a Residential Treatment Center is a Good Move
"Vacant facilities can become an eyesore in our community as well as a financial burden," said School Board President Nellie Moore in backing the sale.
"It's really a win-win for everyone."
Past Plans for Opening Treatment Centers
Since 2005, Ruff's residential treatment center plans have been turned away in Hobart, Merrillville, and Lowell, after vigorous protests from residents.
Why a Residential Treatment Center is Needed
Ruff wants the center in Gary at the 1301 Arizona St. school site to stop regional children from being sent to faraway residential treatment centers in places like Nevada and Colorado.
"We could serve children in Lake County much better than we are doing now," said Ruff, who estimates 300-plus county wards are sent out of state for transitional services.
"We certainly do not want to totally disconnect (children) from their families even though there are challenges in their lives," said School Board member Michael Scott.
So Far No Opposition to the Treatment Center
No Gary residents have so far opposed the Aetna location.
School Board member Alex Wheeler Jr. sent 700 letters to District 1 residents, and none has complained, he said.
Ruff, who failed to snag city approval to turn Spaulding Elementary School into a treatment facility in 2006, has the support of not only school trustees now, but also Superintendent Mary Steele-Agee and Mayor Rudy Clay.
"The need, of course, is there in more than one area," Clay said. "It would bring young people closer to their families ... (which can) bring about the healing," the mayor said.
Other Benefits offered by a Treatment Center
Supporters say the center can offer about 30 jobs, money for the school district, a tax-paying business and a positive environment for troubled kids.
Ruff has already agreed to pay full price. The proceeds would be at least $285,910, which includes $300 in advertising costs. The money would be put in Gary schools' general fund.
Wheeler said the board must agree to advertise an auction, which is the fastest way the state will allow the transfer of such property.
He said he couldn't support the Spaulding plan in 2006 because it was too close to Emerson school. He thinks the Aetna residential neighborhood is better suited.
If Ruff can get the property deed, he must still obtain special exception from the city's Board of Zoning and Appeals.
He'd also need state licensure.
Ruff said the center, which he plans to remodel so that it is state-of-the-art with a gym, auditorium and living quarters, will be well-staffed, locked and secure. No wards will be "dangerous" or accused of violent crimes.
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Ohio Program Reaches out to Troubled Teens 11/19
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New Zealand Troubled Teens Get a Peak at Prison Life
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Washington Program get $2 Million to Help Troubled Teens 11/11/07
New Mississippi Boot Camp to Meet with Local Residents 11/9/07
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