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Juvenile justice center meeting productive, contentious at times

Posted: 4:01 PM, Sep 07, 2018
Updated: 2018-09-07 21:01:40Z

A non-profit board, tasked with keeping the justice center on time and on budget, is moving along with plans to build the youth center downtown. Today for the first time, the public was allowed into the meeting.

The board comprised of county and city leaders initially kept the meetings private as some of the actions included purchasing real estate. But after public outcry, they opened the doors. 

People on all sides of the debate chimed in on the justice center, but the meeting was briefly interrupted when a man accused Omaha city council-member Ben Gray, who's on the board, of misdeeds without offering any proof. 

"When a white man comes in here and accuses me and accuses my family of something and he has absolutely no proof and comes in here and makes those statements, that's racist to me," says Gray, who’s on the board. 

But board chair and county commissioner Mary Ann Borgeson says the incident was not the core of the meeting, saying the other members of the public gave constructive feedback and questions that the board will now focus on.

"You don't know what you don't know, there were questions that were raised today that we'll try and find answers or get answers for and that's what it's about," says Mary Ann Borgeson.  

While the board seems keen on the $120 million downtown proposal, the plan from commissioner Jim Cavanaugh that would instead renovate the current youth center was brought up. Project architect Bruce Carpenter says the alternative plan doesn't meet the goal of consolidating courts, does not offer enough space for courtrooms and would cost more than the estimated 50 million dollars.

"I would be pretty confident it's closer to the $90 million, maybe a little beyond," says Bruce Carpenter, project architect.

As of Wednesday, 77 children were housed at the youth center Borgeson says the board is studying the reasons why that many kids are there. 

"If we focus in on that, we can reduce the number of beds, or number of children, that we need to have a bed for," says Borgeson.  

Including minorities in the construction of the facility was brought up, as was forming a family advisory board-where families that had kids in the youth center can speak up. The non-profit board will meet again, next month.