Dec. 1-The time to find reliable classroom space for the county's Juvenile Justice Alternative Education Program is now, Johnson County Commissioner Rick Bailey said, sentiments others on the court agreed with.
"We need to find something permanent," Commissioner Kenny Howell said.
Where that will be remains to be seen but all on the court seemed to agree that now is the time to start the search.
Bailey broached the topic during the workshop portion of Monday's Johnson County Commissioners Court meeting.
Bailey suggested tapping American Rescue Plan Act, or ARPA, funds to purchase or build such space.
Johnson County received about $34 million in ARPA funds, federally funds distributed to counties and other governmental entities to mitigate and cover costs associated with COVID-19. Among other expenditures, commissioners approved paying for a new 911 call center building with ARPA funds earlier this year.
"Like that 911 call center, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," Bailey said. "We're so blessed to have received those ARPA funds for projects, helping our nonprofits and all the things we've done. But the clock is ticking. We need to be proactive on this [classroom space] while we have the cash to do it without having to go to the taxpayers."
Johnson County's continued population growth prompted the call for additional, and reliable classroom space.
Johnson County Juvenile Justice Department Director Cristy Malott alerted commissioners to the situation last March.
COVID-19, population growth and other factors increased the number of mandatory removal students ordered to attend the Juvenile Justice Alternative Education Program, Malott said.
The classroom then being used, in the Juvenile Justice Center, could accommodate about 16 students. Unfortunately, those numbers have doubled and continue to rise.
Malott at the time asked commissioners to purchase a portable classroom building to be placed adjacent the Juvenile Justice Center.
Commissioners instead reached out to Cleburne ISD and rented space in the old Adams Elementary School building. Commissioners requested a three-year lease but were only able to secure one year.
"That's where we are," Bailey said. "We don't know whether they will renew that lease for another year, they may need that building again for their own use at some point. We can't depend on, nor should we expect CISD to rescue us."
County Judge Roger Harmon suggested using the Juvenile Justice Center itself, an idea commissioners also discussed earlier this year.
"Might be worth revisiting an analysis of the space in the back of the Juvenile facility," Harmon said. "I don't know how many kids that could hold."
Bailey and Commissioner Larry Woolley countered that making use of that space would require renovations and likely serve as a temporary solution at best.
"I don't disagree," Woolley said. "But there's a lot of record storage in that space now. Those records would need to be moved somewhere else, which would create another challenge."
Harmon had another idea.
"The school district might be willing to sell one of their buildings to the county," Harmon said.
Such is not unprecedented. The building that now houses the Guinn Justice Center used to be Cleburne High School.
Commissioners took no action during Monday's meeting although Harmon said he will contact CISD officials to discuss the matter.
Praise for youth
Donald Kelm, District 8 Extension Administrator for Texas A&M Agrilife Extension Services, delivered glowing words for Johnson County youth, at least for those involved in 4-H participation.
District 8 covers several counties including Johnson County.
Of scholarships awarded annually by the 4-H Foundation, one Johnson County received an award in 2021 and four this year, Kelm said.
Of the officers on the district council, officers elected by their peers, three of the 10 come from Johnson County, Kelm said, adding that one of those three also serves on the state council.
Twenty-four 4-H ambassadors also hail from Johnson County.
Potential candidates apply and, if selected, undergo training then go on to assist county ag agents with various projects and other duties.
"To have 24 ambassadors is evidence of the quality of youth in Johnson County," Kelm said. "That is the most ambassadors out of any county in District 8."
Kelm praised also Johnson County's ag agents for their hard work and dedication as well as other volunteers, members of the Johnson County Master Gardners and the Extension supported programs in the county.
Kelm praised, too, the commissioners court's support of local Extension programs and initiatives.