WILKES-BARRE — Jim Casey has operated a residential program for men recovering from drug and alcohol addiction in the city’s downtown for 16 years, and now he wants to add a second program for women in Luzerne County’s former juvenile detention center.
“We’re trying to do what we can to serve the needs of the community, rehabbing deteriorating structures and rehabbing people,” Casey said. “We need to give women an opportunity to get their lives together.”
County council members are scheduled to discuss Casey’s proposal to purchase the vacant detention center off North River Street for $20,000 during Tuesday’s work session.
The county administration had issued a public request seeking bids from interested buyers in June, and Casey submitted the lone offer.
The three-story structure, which sits atop a hill overlooking the county prison on Water Street, has been empty since 2002. A sale would put the property back into productive use and save the county an estimated $400,000 to tear down the structure, officials said.
The council must approve all sales of county-owned real estate.
According to paperwork submitted to the council:
Casey plans to rehabilitate the building for an inpatient mental health and addiction treatment center serving about 50 adult women.
His proposal is contingent on planning and zoning approval to house an inpatient behavioral health treatment facility at the site and government clearance for setbacks and access, including a highway occupancy permit from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.
Casey said the site is currently zoned institutional. The old detention center initially was a women’s prison following its construction in 1937.
To complete financing for the renovation, Casey needs an agreement of sale.
The resolution up for council consideration would accept Casey’s proposal and authorize the county manager and solicitor’s office to negotiate a sale agreement.
The center is on the same tax assessment parcel as the county prison on Water Street. If the offer is accepted, the buyer must pay all costs to subdivide the center into a separate 1.93-acre parcel.
The structure is solid and not leaking but needs a new furnace and other repairs, officials have said. Its choppy layout and shortage of parking makes it unsuitable for county reuse, officials have concluded.
The center roof was replaced in 2003 but is “showing signs of age,” the request for proposals said.
Casey said his 50-bed facility for men on South Main Street next to the federal courthouse — the James A. Casey House — has operated responsibly and without controversy.
The facility opened in 1999 to provide transitional housing and was previously called Crossing Over before converting to a more intense halfway house program about four years ago, Casey said.
Licensed by the state Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs as a residential rehabilitation and treatment facility, the James A. Casey House offers individual and group counseling and a myriad of life skills programs to teach men how to live independently.
Participants typically remain in the program three- to six months, he said.
Casey said the Wyoming Valley has a “great need” for a halfway house for women struggling with addiction and mental health issues.
“I’ve been here 16 years, and I’m witnessing the need,” he said. “Women are very underserved in this area, to say the least.”
He estimated the new facility would create 20 to 30 jobs.