Juvenile hall has ceremonial start | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Juvenile hall has ceremonial start

William Ferchland, Tahoe Daily Tribune

Between freshly cut pine and a crowd of El Dorado County’s most powerful people, thankful speeches and silver shovels were featured in the groundbreaking ceremony for the juvenile hall in South Lake Tahoe.

The actual ground moving won’t take place until weather permits, due to the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency’s guidelines for digging, but Tuesday’s ceremony marked the culmination of a dream some have had for years.

Dave Solaro, former chief of police for South Lake Tahoe and now an El Dorado County supervisor, led the effort to bring what will be the second 40-bed juvenile hall in the county.

“It’s the first stage of the final phase,” said a smiling Solaro after posing for pictures with a shovel and hard hat.

The crowd was practically a “who’s who” of the city and county. District Attorney Gary Lacy was talking to Sheriff Jeff Neves who spoke with newly chosen South Lake Tahoe Police Chief Don Muren. Several county supervisors appeared and shared space with top city employees.

Judge Jerald Lasarow walked through the sagebrush. So did Lennie Schwartz, the Lake Tahoe Unified School District Board of Education president, who stood near Superintendent Diane Scheerhorn.

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Ron Pierini, sheriff of neighboring Douglas County, stood in back. He likely didn’t hear the quiet native prayer from Dinah Pete, a Washoe tribe elder.

The two-story, $8.6 million facility, which will sit behind South Tahoe Middle School and next to El Dorado County Jail, has several benefits, including relieving the overcrowded Placerville facility.

Officers will no longer be taken off the streets to drive youths to the West Slope and parents with transportation problems will be able to visit their incarcerated offspring, said Judge Suzanne Kingsbury, the county’s presiding judge.

Parent visitations are an important tool in the rehabilitation process, Kingsbury said.

“Imagine being a young person, 12, 13, 14 years old and you’re removed from your family,” Kingsbury said. “It’s not really the healthiest situation for these kids.”

Many Tahoe incarcerated youths have substance abuse problems and they also commit more violent acts than their West Slope counterparts, Kingsbury said.

The hall, which will be built by United Construction out of Reno, will employ roughly 50 people. There will be three full-time teachers who will help the older youths obtain a high school diploma from the El Dorado County Office of Education. Other programs will center on anger management, substance abuse and 120-day family reunification.

Kingsbury mentioned another problem appears when a Tahoe youth is released from juvenile hall: They are sent to a different counselor in Tahoe. The transfer is like starting from scratch, the judge said.

Joe Warchol, chief probation officer, reminded the crowd that the building will be called the South Lake Tahoe Juvenile Treatment Center. The name is not “whitewashing” the fact that youths will be incarcerated but emphasizes they will be treated for rehabilitation, he said.

About 15 Tahoe youths reside in the Placerville hall, according to Gregory Sly, deputy chief probation officer. The Tahoe facility will house minimum to maximum offenders. The booking area will face the jail while the administrative center faces the middle school.

Sly assured that students will not be able to see much of the menace of the facility.

“There is still a greenbelt around the project,” he said.

The facility is projected to be completed by August of next year.

— E-mail William Ferchland at wferchland@tahoedailytribune.com