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Plan for secure youth treatment center in Upper Valley worries neighbors

Published: Aug. 26, 2021 at 5:57 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 26, 2021 at 7:00 PM EDT
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NEWBURY, Vt. (WCAX) - Plans are moving ahead in Newbury to open a new secure residential treatment facility for troubled youth, but at least one neighbor is saying not in my backyard.

According to Sean Brown, the commissioner of the Department for Children and Families, Vermont is taking a new approach to treat and rehabilitate the state’s most violent kids. And they believe they have just the place to do it.”

“We are really looking to create a residential treatment program that is very therapeutic-focused to really stabilize these youth who are in crisis,” Brown said.

That secure treatment facility for boys 12-17 will be housed at a former bed-and-breakfast on top of a hill at the end of a dirt road in Newbury.

The property is owned by New Hampshire-based Becket Family Services. The nonprofit runs facilities for youth throughout the region.

The building was most recently used as a treatment center for kids who could come and go.

“Restorative justice, in general, is incredibly important,” said Jette Mandl-Abramson, who owns a farm that abuts the property.

While Mandl-Abramson supports the idea of a youth treatment facility in principle, she says this is not the right location. She’s worried about increased traffic, noise, potential environmental impacts and her own personal safety.

“God forbid there is an escape,” she said.

But her biggest worry is for her husband who is Black, along with their other farmworkers, who she says could be unfairly targeted by increased police presence in the area.

“Our employees have already told us that they will no longer feel comfortable working here,” Mandl-Abramson said.

There have been several public hearings about the facilities where community members have been able to voice their concerns. Commissioner Brown says residents are being heard.

“We feel like we will be good neighbors there, that there is not going to be a safety concern,” Brown said.

The six-bed Newbury facility will replace the shuttered Woodside facility in Colchester, which was the state’s only youth detention center.

Patrick Ross says he’s trying to remain neutral on the issue but the Newbury resident says there is definitely a need.

“I’ve known people who have needed help and have benefited from services such as this,” he said.

The state plans to put up to $4 million into the facility to make the renovations needed to make it secure. The plan is moving through the Act 250 process. The next step will be a hearing in front of the town’s planning and zoning board.

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