Boys and Girls Town hopes to use Woodhaven site

The Columbia City Council is expected to decide tonight on the group’s request.

Monday, November 15, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 10:10 p.m. CDT, Friday, July 4, 2008

When the Columbia branch of Boys and Girls Town of Missouri opened five years ago, it promised it would look for better facilities than its two houses and one administrative office scattered around the city.

The Columbia City Council will decide tonight whether the group can keep that promise.

Boys and Girls Town provides residence and counseling for troubled teens taken from their homes and recommended by the family and youth services divisions. The teens live together in a home setting designed to bring structure and responsibility into their lives, said Vince Hillyer, the group’s executive director.

The council will vote on the group’s proposal to relocate to the former Woodhaven site on Bearfield Road.

Woodhaven was a residential care facility for mentally disabled adults. It closed in April 1994 when it moved the residents to individual support settings.

Since then, the land has gone unused.

“When we saw the 6 acres of land with the cottages, we knew it would fit perfectly with what we wanted to do,” Hillyer said. “The new site will allow us to keep the kids closer together and provide better structure and supervision.”

The city recently annexed the site, allowing the group to receive city funding.

Classrooms would be installed in two of the residences to provide an education to youths whose behavioral problems keep them out of public schools. These youths are rated as having a Level 4 behavioral disorder. In its current locations, the group is only legally allowed to house Level 3 youths.

The state classifies the behavioral level of each child entering Boys and Girls Town.

Level 4 indicates acute behavior dysfunctions, such as homicidal or suicidal tendencies, Hillyer said.

Level 3 youths are less of a threat to society and might be in trouble for truancy, drug use or running away from home, he said.

“There is no Level 4 facility in mid-Missouri, and so the state of Missouri Division of Family Services is under pressure to rate kids as Level 3 so that they can stay close to their families,” said Rick James, whose father, Bill James, helped found the Boys and Girls Town of Missouri program in 1949. Rick James now sits on the board of directors. “This is why it is so critical for the City Council to approve the building of this facility and get it done as soon as possible.”

Even if the City Council approves the move today, the group’s struggle isn’t over. It needs to raise $2.5 million to pay for renovation.

James is heading the program’s renovation campaign, set to begin after United Way finishes its holiday campaigns.

“People have already begun donating money,” James said. “The state of Missouri set aside $250,000 in Neighborhood Assistance Program credits even before we had bought the property.”

The $2.5 million does not include operational costs, and Hillyer said the program also must raise enough money to meet daily operational needs.

“We are the top youth residential care facility in Missouri, and we hope the city gives us the chance to expand the care we provide,” James said.

If the council approves the proposal, the group will close on the land Dec. 7.

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