Over the Hill

Vacant youth facility in Paso Robles still has great potential for new uses

Former California Youth Authority facility in Paso Robles.
Former California Youth Authority facility in Paso Robles. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

What will we do with the vacant El Paso De Robles Youth Correctional Facility?

It was once a state juvenile prison. Many old-timers in Paso Robles still call it the Boys School. Many worked there. But it no longer houses juvenile lawbreakers, and it’s been vacant since 2008.

The facility sits on 155 acres along Airport Road across from the airport. Its vacant dormitories, classrooms, 200-seat dining hall and 400-seat theater cost many millions to build. And although it’s empty, maintaining it costs the State of California at least $700,000 per year. For eight years, that works out to $5.6 million that California taxpayers had to pay.

So I was glad to read in last Friday’s Tribune about a proposal by Paso Robles Mayor Steve Martin and Councilman Steve Gregory. They want the City of Paso Robles to own the Boys School. The Tribune also said some county nonprofit organizations have joined with them in that.

Early in 2012, it became clear that the Boys School would never again be a juvenile or adult state prison. Gov. Jerry Brown didn’t include it in the state budget. The state was decreasing its prison population. Federal courts had ordered California to reduce prison overcrowding, and less serious offenders were sentenced to county jails.

Then, Paso Robles City Councilman Fred Strong proposed that the city buy the vacant Boys School for $1. He also proposed having a branch county jail on part of the property and that Cal Fire continue to lease some the property for $1 a year.

The state didn’t act on Strong’s proposals, but I did. I invited readers to send me their suggestions. A man suggested making the vacant Boys School into a “service facility for returning vets.” An Atascadero woman suggested making it a “village for the homeless.”

That homeless idea also occurred to other people. In 2016 the mayors of the county’s seven cities sent a letter to our state senator and assemblyman. The mayors suggested turning the Boys School into a homeless transition center. No real action came of that.

But homeless housing was still included in the Boys School proposals presented last week by Martin and Gregory. Also included were farmworker housing, education and sports areas, stores and businesses, ethanol production and solar power. Stores and businesses would be essential. I doubt a homeless settlement could succeed in that rural area without nearby stores.

Martin and Gregory also proposed the state sell the Boys School to the city or the school district at a reduced price. The city or school district would then contract with businesses, nonprofit groups and agencies that would develop the property. At the City Council meeting Tuesday night, city staff was authorized to evaluate the proposal.

I wonder if anyone has considered just putting the Boys School up for sale to the highest bidder. I wonder what private developers would propose doing with it.

Phil Dirkx’s column is special to The Tribune. He has lived in Paso Robles for more than five decades, and his column appears here every week. Reach Dirkx at 238-2372 or phild2008@sbcglobal.net.