The Ramsey County Board took its first steps Tuesday toward rebuilding Boys Totem Town, the county’s longtime residential campus in St. Paul’s Battle Creek neighborhood for adolescent delinquents.
The board approved $5 million in bonding to design a new facility and, if necessary, purchase land to relocate it.
Still to be decided is where it would go, whether to combine it with a new Juvenile Detention Center and whether Ramsey should seek a partner county to share the project.
“The building is just part of it,” Commissioner Toni Carter said. “We won’t be addressing the building without also addressing service decisions.”
Chicago-based consultants Huskey and Associates, enlisted by the Community Corrections Department to develop a 10-year plan for juvenile services, last winter recommended that Ramsey County continue to operate Totem Town and adjust its menu of services to emphasize less confinement for nonviolent youth.
Juvenile arrests in the past few years are down in Ramsey County but the need for crisis stabilization and intervention is rising, the report found.
Totem Town admissions also were down from 2006 to 2011, one reason why a larger facility (technically it can house 85, although the typical population is now in the 20s) is no longer necessary.
But the consultants said a 38-bed housing facility for troubled juveniles is still needed. Young males housed there are less likely to reoffend than those at other long-term facilities, and Totem Town offers schooling and easy access for families and community-based organizations. It also has a day treatment center.
At Totem Town, Community Corrections Director Carol Roberts said, “A kid may get the structure they’re not getting at home ... [when] parents are completely burned out and there is damage to the parent-child relationship.”
While courts have had trouble engaging families, she said, Totem Town provides family therapy and has had “remarkable success.”
With the county’s Juvenile Detention Center also severely underused, the consultants recommended that Ramsey County build a joint Totem Town/detention facility on a new site so that services may be easily shared.
Totem Town’s current wooded location, while scenic, is too hilly to easily accommodate the one-level facility that officials prefer.
Totem Town began in 1908 as the Ramsey County Home for Boys, on E. 7th Street in St. Paul. Five years later it moved to a log house and a frame barn on 80 acres at its present site. The current dormitory was built in 1936, and the campus was renamed Totem Town in 1957 from the local practice of converting dead trees on the property into totem poles.
Today, Totem Town consists of the dormitory — the second-oldest building owned by the county — and Kohler Hall, a security unit built in 1994. “It’s a great staff but not a great environment. We feel we could do a lot better,” Roberts said.
In the next few months, Carter said, the County Board will conduct a workshop on the various building alternatives. Renovation is a possibility, although unlikely. Services deemed necessary to plug the gaps in the Corrections Department’s current juvenile offerings also will get more scrutiny.
“The focus here is on successful outcomes for kids, getting them out of the justice system and on the right path,” Roberts said. “We don’t just want to build facilities. ... We need kids to be productive and not be back in the system.”