February 6, 2023

Dec. 1 — It’s now time to find a reliable classroom for the county’s juvenile justice alternative education program, Johnson County Commissioner Rick Bailey said, views agreed with others in court.

“We need to find something permanent,” Commissioner Kenny Howell said.

Where that will be remains to be seen, but everyone on the pitch seemed to agree that now is the time to start looking.

Bailey addressed the issue during the workshop portion of Monday’s Johnson County Commissioners Court session.

Bailey suggested tapping into American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to buy or build such areas.

Johnson County received approximately $34 million in ARPA funds, federal funds distributed to counties and other government agencies to mitigate and cover costs associated with COVID-19. Among other expenses, commissioners earlier this year approved payment for a new 911 call center building using ARPA funds.

“Like the 911 call center, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Bailey said. “We are so blessed to have received these ARPA funds for projects that help our nonprofits and all the things we have done. But the clock is ticking. We have to be proactive about this [classroom space] while we have the money to do it without having to go to the taxpayers.”

Johnson County’s continued population growth has created a need for additional and reliable classrooms.

Johnson County Juvenile Justice Department director Cristy Malott brought the situation to the attention of commissioners last March.

COVID-19, population growth and other factors increased the number of mandatory relocation students ordered to attend the Juvenile Justice alternative education program, Malott said.

The classroom in the juvenile justice center that was used at the time offered space for about 16 students. Unfortunately, those numbers have doubled and continue to rise.

Malott then asked the commissioners to purchase a portable classroom building to be sited next to the Juvenile Justice Center.

The commissioners instead approached Cleburne ISD and rented a room in the old Adams Elementary School building. The commissioners applied for a three-year lease, but were only able to secure one year.

“Here we are,” Bailey said. “We don’t know if they will extend this lease for another year, maybe they will need the building again for their own use at some point. We cannot rely on it, nor should we expect CISD to save us.”

District Judge Roger Harmon suggested using the Juvenile Justice Center itself, an idea the commissioners also discussed earlier this year.

“It might be worth doing another analysis of the space at the back of the juvenile facility,” Harmon said. “I don’t know how many kids that could hold.”

Bailey and Commissioner Larry Woolley countered that use of this space would require renovations and would probably serve as a temporary solution at best.

“I don’t disagree,” Woolley said. “But there’s a lot of disk storage in this room now. Those panels would have to be moved elsewhere, which would pose another challenge.”

Harmon had another idea.

“The school district may be willing to sell one of its buildings to the district,” Harmon said.

Something like this is not unprecedented. The building that now houses the Guinn Justice Center was formerly Cleburne High School.

The commissioners took no action during Monday’s meeting, although Harmon said he would be in touch with CISD officials to discuss the matter.

praise for youth

Donald Kelm, District 8 Extension Administrator for Texas A&M Agrilife Extension Services, provided enthusiastic words for the youth of Johnson County, at least those involved in the 4-H participation.

District 8 spans multiple counties, including Johnson County.

Of the grants awarded annually by the 4-H Foundation, one Johnson County received an award in 2021 and four this year, Kelm said.

Of the officers on the district council who were elected by their peers, three of the 10 are from Johnson County, Kelm said, adding that one of those three also serves on the state council.

24 4-H ambassadors are also from Johnson County.

Potential candidates apply and if selected, complete training and then assist County Ag agents in various projects and other duties.

“Having 24 ambassadors is a testament to the quality of youth in Johnson County,” Kelm said. “That’s most of the ambassadors from all districts in District 8.”

Kelm also commended Johnson County Ag Agents for their hard work and dedication, as well as other volunteers, members of Johnson County Master Gardners and Extension-supported programs in the county.

Kelm also commended the Commissioners Court’s support for local enlargement programs and initiatives.

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