By Lynda Jones
Knock on wood ... There are no known roadblocks for the transformation of the former Crockett State School site into a residential treatment center (RTC) for abused and neglected youth.
Houston Serenity Place - Crockett Campus (Serenity Place) really is about to open at the former Crockett State School site.
That is the message Program Director Chris Brown gave the Courier this week after hearing rumors from an anxious community that maybe the deal was too good to be true.
After a few false starts since the former state school closed in 2011, some residents and job applicants expressed fear this venture would somehow face opposition from a Houston senator. The difference this time is that previous prospective tenants intended to contract with the state's Juvenile Justice Department, and Serenity Place does not.
Senator John Whitmire of Houston, as chair of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, blocked previous projects.
Serenity Place does not accept clients from the Juvenile Justice Department, so Whitmire has nothing to do with their business, the Courier was told.
Instead, Serenity Place contracts with Child Protective Services. The children that will be placed here are not kids who have committed crimes, as Brown previously explained to the Courier. These are children who have been removed from their former homes due to some faults or shortcomings, such as drug abuse, of their parents.
Brown said more than 300 people applied for positions through the Texas Workforce Commission, that Serenity Place has conducted second interviews with many applicants, and the company has selected 50 for the first round of hiring. Actually, he said, they chose 70, just in case any of the first 50 change their minds.
Brown said applicants have not been notified yet because they don't have a definite start date.
A lot of work had to be done at the facility to make it ready for both the fire marshal's inspection, which was scheduled for Tuesday, June 7, and the Child Protective Services (CPS) inspection, which is pending.
There were roof leaks, land to be cleaned, other issues at the site, Brown explained. "CPS has very high standards (for facilities that house children/youth), and now we're ready."
"We're just waiting now for CPS to schedule their inspection," Brown said. As soon as they get that date, and he hopes it is within the next week, the company will start calling the selected job applicants and offering them positions.
Brown is very enthusiastic about the response in Houston County, stating there is "no comparison" with the applicants they get in Houston.
"People here want to work, are eager to work and they have a heart for the kids we serve," he said. "(They're all) very capable, very positive."
He also noted that all the trades people doing the repair and modification work getting the site ready are from Houston County.
Brown reiterated that there is "absolutely no truth" to the rumor that anyone is blocking the opening of the Houston Serenity Place - Crockett Campus.
He there already are 22 young people approved for placement at the facility that will provide a safe environment for abused and neglected kids getting the support they need to have successful lives. Brown anticipates having at least 40 residents at the facility here by the end of the month.
"Just be a patient a little bit longer," Brown advises applicants. "We will be calling soon."