Fresno Unified School District Superintendent Bob Nelson, in the foreground, watches as an excavator tears down a long-vacant classroom building on the site of the former Fresno County Juvenile Hall. Photo by David Castellon

published on June 21, 2019 - 4:48 PM
Written by David Castellon

Calling the former Fresno County Juvenile Hall an eyesore, blight and a reminder of a shameful period in the county’s history, work began Friday to tear down the facility.

Actually, full demolition of the buildings on the nearly 13.8-acre site will begin next week. It is expected to continue through the end of the year.

“For 52 years in this southeast Fresno neighborhood, within the boundaries of Fresno Unified, the building basically behind me served as a jail for the youth of our city. This city has lived with a jail incarcerating kids in their midst for the better part of five decades,” Fresno Unified School District Superintendent Bob Nelson said Friday morning to an audience gathered for a demolition “kick-off.”

“Moreover, this building has sat vacant for the better part of a decade plus and has been kind of an eyesore in this community.”

Constructed starting in the 1950s through parts of the 1960s, the juvenile hall closed in 2006 following the construction of a new juvenile hall and news reports of past abuses committed against youths detained there.

Fresno City Councilman Luis Chavez recounted in his speech being a boy growing up not far away from the hall and being warned, “This is a place where you don’t want to come.”

He noted the news report calling the place “the hall of shame” and that he is grateful a new, better use is planned for the land.

Fresno County, which had owned the land since the 1800s, purchasing it with gold, sold the combined parcels to the school district for $1.2 million.

District officials expect to spend $2 million more on demolition.

Plans are to build a school on the site, but how long that may take and how much it may cost isn’t clear — though Nelsen said he expects it will be in the $30 million range.

The uncertainty exists because the district hasn’t fully fleshed out what it will build.

“We are actually still conceptualizing what the school is to entail,” he told the crowd comprised largely of school district and local government leaders, along with reporters and members of the Southeast Fresno community.

“We are anticipating doing kind of an alt[ernative education] kind of campus hub,” which essentially is a program for students who have had trouble learning in traditional middle school and high school settings, Nelson explained.

The new site also may be a base for online learning, “and there is some discussion of an early learning facility here on campus as well,” he added.

In all, current estimates are that nearly 1,000 students might use the new campus, but Nelson noted not all may be there every day.

Those facilities currently offering the services that would be moved to the campus will be used for other purposes, though Nelson declined to discuss that further, noting that those plans also still are being conceptualized.

“The one thing we know we have to do for Fresno is we have to knock this down to build a place where kids can become college and career ready.”

That process began when after the press conference, a worker in an excavator used its mechanical arm to begin tearing down a former classroom.

At some points, members of the school district’s board of directors got the opportunity to operate the excavator — under the guidance of a professional operator — and do some of the demolition.

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