The northeast region of Kansas reached a symbolic milestone Wednesday on its quest for a place to detain children and teen-agers who violate the law.
Fifty-one people trod on damp, clay-rich soil in North Lawrence to witness the ground-breaking ceremony for the 14-bed Northeast Kansas Regional Juvenile Detention Facility.
"The fact is, we're going to get it done," said a jubilant Pam Weigand, project coordinator.
Along with Weigand, officials from Douglas and other regional counties heralded the milestone, eager for the construction of much-needed detention space. A state legislator, meanwhile, expressed hope that the facility never would be full.
Silt-laden dirt peeked beneath the clay-rich soil on the site's fringes -- evidence that actual ground-breaking began earlier this spring, when crews began site preparation.
The poor underlying soil also served as a reminder of hurdles on the way to the milestone.
"It's been a long, drawn-out affair or ordeal, whatever you want to call it," Commission Chairman Louie McElhaney said.
A study released in December detailing the need for costly soil preparation forced commissioners to consider scrapping the site.
Architects accepted an alternate, less expensive design that would solve problems in the way the foundation would settle. Commissioners then voted to stick with the site.
The site is on a floodplain off Industrial Lane, just south of the Kansas Turnpike and east of North Third Street.
In May, a group of 12 North Lawrence neighbors voiced opposition to the center. No protesters attended the ceremony Wednesday.
City Commissioner Bob Moody, who before election served as president of the North Lawrence Improvement Assn., welcomed the ground breaking.
"It's unfortunate in our society today that there is a need for a facility such as this," he said. "Hopefully (with the center), we can allay some of the problems further down the line."
Late in 1991, commissioners struggled to convince other regional counties to contribute money for operating costs.
They adopted a revenue formula that bills the 14 participating counties less up front and more for per-day usage. Counties that had threatened to abandon the joint venture came back on-line.
Commissioners from Osage and Jefferson counties attended the ceremony and said they supported the formula because of its flexibility.
"If it's more than paying the bill, we can back it off," Osage County Commissioner Charles Hutchison said.
However, Rep. Forrest Swall, D-Lawrence, warned that the formula could have negative effects.
"Kansas leads the nation in the number of kids who are locked up. We don't have to do that," he said, endorsing alternate programs. "The real mark of success will be ... the degree to which it is kept empty.
"Another one of our great failures (would be) if the revenue raised to keep it in operation is based on the number of kids we keep in," he said.
Swall said the state or counties should find other ways of funding juvenile programs and the center.