Hickey changes to be costly--in money and jobs $8 million for improvements sought; 100 workers affected


When the state turned operation of the Charles H. Hickey Jr. Training School over to a private contractor this month, it expected a complete changeover in the northern Baltimore County reformatory.

"We're going to do Hickey right," promised Dr. Nancy S. Grasmick, the outgoing state juvenile services secretary, expressing hope that it would set the standard for other Maryland youth facilities.

State legislators learned last week that the cost of doing it right will be high -- in monetary and human terms.

The Cub Hill-area campus needs $8 million in capital improvements and more than 100 Hickey employees have lost their jobs, they were told.

The $8 million estimate for improvements includes a new entrance road, remodeled residence cottages and central dining facilities, a private consultant told the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee.

That would include installing air conditioning, fire sprinkler systems and new smoke detectors -- most of which don't work now -- according to Steven Carter, a consultant with Carter & Goble Associates of Washington.

The state budget appropriation for Hickey this fiscal year is only $336,000, enough to build the proposed new 3,000-foot entrance road and parking lot.

"I'm sorry the contract was awarded before we resolved this issue of capital improvements," groused Sen. John A. Cade, R-Anne Arundel, who suggested that Rebound, the company with the new contract, should be responsible for some of the improvements. "We don't want them [facilities] returned to the state in the [deficient] condition in which they were found."

"It would have been nice to have this information on capital needs when we were considering the bids [of operators]," added Sen. Charles H. Smelser, D-Carroll.

But Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, D-Baltimore, said the costs estimated by Mr. Carter seemed reasonable, given the scope of work involved. The improvements would also allow the facility to increase capacity from 350 to 432 male delinquents.

Dr. Grasmick, who is leaving the Juvenile Services Administration after eight months to become state school superintendent, assured legislators that the department would stay within its budget in addressing Hickey's needs.

Legislators were silent on the report that about 100 of the 300 former "permanent" state employees at Hickey are out on the street.

The state gave Rebound a free hand in hiring new staff to implement its new philosophy, eliminating all state jobs at Hickey. Criticism of staff training and attitudes ran from the governor's office to the legislature. "If they shape up, they'll be hired. If not, they'll be gone," was how Gov. William Donald Schaefer viewed the old Hickey work force. Rebound, the Colorado firm that has a three-year, $50 million contract to run the school, hired about 100 former "permanent" state employees there. A few Hickey workers retired, and 92 found jobs with other state agencies.

"We want those people who share our attitudes about the kids to stay and become employees," said Jane O'Shaughnessy, chief executive officer of Rebound, which is still hiring for the staff.

The private firm interviewed more than 500 people for jobs and plans to operate with 365 employees under a program that includes separate administration and education programs for youths awaiting sentencing and those serving sentences, she said.

Working with 12-youth teams that live, learn and work together, Rebound plans to instill a new philosophy in rehabilitation in hopes of reducing the repeat-offender rate at Hickey from 50 percent to less than 30 percent, Ms. O'Shaughnessy said.

Former Hickey staff members could not use their seniority to bump other employees in the state bureaucracy. Those who were not picked up by Rebound or for state job vacancies were out of luck.

About 150 Hickey employees resigned from their jobs to protect their rights to priority consideration for future state jobs in their specialties for two years. Those who did not get other work are eligible for unemployment benefits.

"It was a callous and unnecessary act," said William Bolander, executive director of Council 92, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents state workers.

"We have been fighting this for some time -- these people were experienced state employees who were let go," said Joseph Cook, field director of Maryland Classified Employees Association, another state union.

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