Story Produced by New Hampshire Bulletin
MANCHESTER, NH – Lawmakers know the Department of Health and Human Services will not meet its March 1 deadline for closing the Sununu Youth Services Center and replacing it with a smaller, more therapeutic setting for at-risk youth.
The question will be whether they can agree on a new deadline and size of the new facility after fatal challenges to similar legislation last year.
Proposed bills suggest they may.
The Senate Health and Human Services Committee was set to take up one of two bills addressing the future of the center on Jan.12. Sen. Sharon Carson, a Londonderry Republican, is proposing a Nov. 1, 2024, closure date in her legislation, Senate Bill 1. That’s five months later than what Rep. Jess Edwards, an Auburn Republican, proposed in House Bill 120. But Edwards said Tuesday he has agreed to amend his bill to align with Carson’s closure date.
Edwards said he hopes legislation will clear the House and Senate soon and reach the governor’s desk by February.
Both bills would allot $15 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funds for design and construction of a new facility, with additional costs to be covered with state money.
The Department of Administrative Services has estimated costs could reach $25 million and that construction could take until 2028, according to the financial note attached to both bills.
There’s long been bipartisan support for closing the 144-bed Sununu Youth Services Center, a locked facility in Manchester for court-involved juveniles ages 13 to 17. Typically, just five to 10 juveniles are there at a time. Disagreements over the size of a new facility have been the roadblock.
Carson has proposed a 12-bed facility that can expand to 18 beds if needed. Edwards’ bill is similar; it calls for an 18-bed facility but a budget that would support 12 to 14 beds.
The lawmakers may differ over who runs the facility.
Edwards’ bill would require the Department of Health and Human Services to administer the facility but allow it to hire a private provider to run it. Carson’s bill calls for the facility to be operated by the department, but Senate Communications Director Maya Harvey said Carson expects that question will be discussed as the legislation moves forward.
Edwards has proposed additional legislation, House Bill 49, that would give the department $1.5 million to continue services at the Manchester site until the end of June. He said he expects that will be amended to increase funding once a closure date has been decided.