The juvenile jail will remain at a location adjacent to Bayou St. John and the planned home of McDonogh 35 High School.

By Steve Beatty, The Lens staff writer |

Despite concerns from some neighbors, Mayor Mitch Landrieu said this week that the city will rebuild its juvenile jail where it now stands – right across from a city playground and the site of a planned high school in the Bayou St. John area.

Landrieu said the new facility — also the focus of a Criminal Justice Committee meeting today at 2 pm in the City Council chamber — will house not only the jail, but also the Juvenile Court and offices for treatment of mental-health and drug-abuse cases.

Questioning the decision, a woman in the audience said the running joke will be that if students at the high school don’t do well, they’ll just be moved across the street.

The issue arose Monday at the mayor’s most recent town-hall meeting to gauge the priorities of residents as he prepares the 2012 city budget. The next such meeting is tonight.

School officials plan to build a new McDonogh No. 35 High School on the site of the former Vorice Jackson Waters Elementary school, next to Willie Hall Playground. That’s across Milton Street from the current juvenile jail, formally named the Youth Study Center. The area is across Bayou St. John from City Park, between Harrison Avenue and Interstate 610.

Landrieu responded by touting how much more money the city has shaken loose from the federal government to rebuild the site, and said that it will be a good-looking jail.

“FEMA wanted to give us $12 million. We got $30 million,” he said. “We’re going to do it in a way that’s much, much nicer.”

He said the Juvenile Court system would move from its current spot adjacent to City Hall, a building shared with the city’s Civil Court system. Along with the planned treatment facilities, he said the city would be creating a new “justice center” for the city’s youth, not just a jail.

Speaking of the neighborhood in general, the mayor said he’d like to find a way to make it easier for residents to cross the bayou and get to everything that City Park offers, though he didn’t provide specifics.

Residents asked about 30 questions in the course of the hour-long meeting, the third in a series of seven that the mayor will hold, with at least one in each council district.

The meetings are designed to help the administration rank citizen priorities and adjust the city’s nearly half-billion-dollar operating budget accordingly.

As in the previous two meetings, most citizen complaints and spending suggestions involved potholes and streets; blighted properties and overgrown vacant lots; the need for economic development, particularly jobs for young people to keep them out of trouble; and improvements to the city’s parks and playgrounds.

By law, the mayor is required to deliver his budget to the City Council by Nov. 1, though he plans to get it to them two weeks early, as he did last year.

The council will then hold a series of public hearings on all aspects of the budget, a detailed process that usually takes more than two weeks. The public is able to comment again on the budget, and the council may take those comments into consideration as it tweaks the spending plan.

The council is required to approve a new spending plan by Dec. 1. The city’s fiscal year starts Jan. 1.

Steve Beatty

Steve Beatty is the publisher and chief executive officer of The Lens. He worked as an editor for The Times-Picayune for 15 years, leaving New Orleans just before Katrina to take a position as an editor...