Over the Hill

‘Boys’ School’ could have many uses

In last week’s column, I asked for suggestions: What would be a good new use for the now-closed youth prison in my hometown, Paso Robles? Five readers responded. One reader told me it should be a veterans training center. Another said turn it into a village for homeless people. Another suggested a prison honor farm. A married couple suggested private use.

The youth prison closed in 2008. State officials then began planning to convert it into two adult prisons. One would be a 500-bed re-entry prison for inmates nearing the end of their sentences. The other would be a 1,000-bed medical prison.

But last month, Gov. Jerry Brown released his proposed new state budget. It contained no money for those two projects. New prisons may have become unnecessary. California’s prison population is shrinking in response to federal court orders.

The first suggestion I got for the vacant Paso youth prison was Stella Martin’s comment on the Tribune’s website. She proposed transforming it into an “honor farm” for low-risk prisoners. They would contribute to society by manufacturing things.

Next I got an email from Joe Bolster of Los Osos. He wants the empty youth prison to become “a services facility for returning vets.”

It would have living quarters, counseling, instruction in technical trades and a large kitchen. The kitchen would feed the veterans and serve as a restaurant and catering company operated by the veterans. They’d get training and earn money.

Next, Joyce Zimmerman of Atascadero emailed me to say that the former youth prison “sounds like the perfect place for a possibly self-contained village for the homeless.” It could offer employment and rehabilitation services. It could also “include home industry like farming woodworking, ceramics, handcrafts, and cooking and baking.”

Then, on Tuesday a Paso Robles-area couple emailed me. They preferred that their names not be mentioned. They oppose any kind of a prison or jail on the property.

“The (youth) prison is surrounded by wineries, a water park, airport, airport businesses and a new proposed business park,” they said. “A private business should be encouraged to buy or lease the property.”

So thanks for the suggestions. They’re food for thought. But please remember that state officials still haven’t made a final decision about what we old Roblans still call the Boys’ School.

Here is what the governor’s budget proposal says about it: “Requests $775,000 and four positions to place the facility in a warm shutdown until a new plan is developed.”

Reach Phil Dirkx at phild2008@sbcglobal.net or 238-2372.