Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert weighed in the proposed Douglas County Juvenile Justice Center debate at a Thursday night town hall meeting.
During the town hall, Omaha resident Jerry Pascale told the mayor that the county needed to take a step back and look at all of their options, instead of taking over a historic building through eminent domain. "It just seemed like all of a sudden they wanted to spend $120 million. It seemed like it was kind of predestined that they were going to do this. I think they needed to have better public buy-in up front, they never really did that."
Last week, the Douglas County Board of Commissioners voted 5-2 to demolish a building at 18th St. and Howard St. to make way for the county's new youth center.
After Pascale brought up the topic, Stothert revealed that even she hasn't been briefed on the plans. "To be honest with you, it bothers me too, because, as of today, there has not been one member of the county board that has talked to me about it."
Mayor Stothert says she visited the current Douglas County youth facility just a few weeks ago. The current facility on 42nd Street houses about 70 juveniles currently and can accommodate over double that amount at once. "We were very impressed. As we walked by the doors, they were waving at us.” There's a school there. There was a library. There was an IT Center. There was a big gym."
Stothert says a couple members of the county board have reached out, and that they'll be discussing plans soon. The board wants the new justice center to be built in close proximity to the Douglas County Courthouse, which is why they want to acquire the building at 18th and Howard. Approval for bonds to build the new youth center have to, ultimately, be signed off by the mayor.
The city planning board voted to make the building at 18th and Howard streets a local landmark, but that doesn't guarantee the county won't demolish it.