About 80 protesters marched up and down the steps of the Legislative Building today demanding that Gov. Chris Gregoire save Maple Lane School from shutting down.
Gregoire plans to sign the state’s operating budget next week. One of Washington’s largest state-employee unions wants her to veto the section of the bill that would start the three-year phased closure of Maple Lane, where about 200 juvenile offenders are confined in Grand Mound.
Workers, their families and Evergreen State College students chanted, “Veto” and “Save Maple Lane” today. Union officials said none of the workers were on the clock during the protest.
Supporters said no other facility has the means to handle Maple Lane’s unique population of youth with mental illnesses and addictions.
“The state has spent tens of thousands of dollars to train us at Maple Lane,” said counselor Michele Davis, of Olympia.
Legislators agreed to build new capacity at other juvenile facilities to handle Maple Lane youth.
But supporters said youth with mental illness are in danger of being victimized if they’re mixed with young offenders at Green Hill School in nearby Chehalis.
Maple Lane’s closure throws the roughly 260 jobs there into uncertainty. Many workers would move to other facilities, but the Washington Federation of State Employees says it expects 111 jobs to disappear.
Supporters say it doesn’t make sense to save $5.8 million a year by closing the school while borrowing $15.8 million to build new capacity elsewhere, as this year’s budgets call for.
A consulting firm’s 2009 study concluded that closing Maple Lane is a bad idea because the state lacks other space for juvenile offenders. Budget writers said they paid attention to the study and made sure there would be appropriate placement for all offenders.
Gregoire’s office didn’t commit to anything. “She understands their concerns and is certainly listening to those concerns,” said her spokeswoman, Karina Shagren, “and she has until next week to make a decision.”