DuPage County may have new use for shuttered youth home

Posted5/24/2012 5:30 AM

A nonprofit school serving the needs of young people with severe behavioral, emotional and learning disabilities in Cook and Lake counties is hoping to expand into DuPage County by renting space at the county's former youth home.

Joseph Academy -- which has locations in Des Plaines, Melrose Park and Hometown -- is in talks with DuPage about opening a new school in the former DuPage County Juvenile Detention Center. The Wheaton facility was closed at the end of January when DuPage started sending its youth detainees to Kane County.

If the deal is approved, DuPage County Board Chairman Dan Cronin said Joseph Academy would meet the needs of many DuPage families.

"There's kids in the community who need this service," Cronin said Wednesday. "There's a shortage of schools that provide this kind of service at this high quality level."

Joseph Academy partners with school districts that refer students to its program. Cronin said the academy follows the "Boys Town" model of education.

"In some cases, this is the last stop for kids -- the last opportunity they get -- before they may be sentenced to a period of incarceration, either at a youth home or maybe even somewhere more serious," Cronin said.

Attempts to contact Mike Schack, the academy's executive director, were unsuccessful.

Cronin said Schack initially approached him about the possibility of renting space at the old youth home. While some of the building is being used by the sheriff's office, Cronin said there's still a generous amount of available space.

"I think it's a fortuitous chapter in the story of the youth home," said Cronin, adding that he would like to see the facility used to provide a diversion program.

Specific details about the proposed rental agreement haven't been finalized. Once they are, Cronin said he would like the county board to "swiftly consider and approve" the contract.

The academy would like to start operating out of the Wheaton location by the fall.

Meanwhile, the partnership with Kane for housing juvenile offenders is expected to save DuPage an estimated $1 million a year.

"All the feedback has been very positive," Cronin said. "With this development, I couldn't have designed a better outcome for the use of the youth home."

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