Southbury Training School Connecticut Department of Developmental Services
The Southbury Training School is a home for individuals with intellectual disabilities.
The Southbury Training School is a home for individuals with intellectual disabilities. Connecticut Department of Developmental Services

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s administration has denied a request from federal authorities to temporarily house up to 2,000 migrant children from Central America at the Southbury Training School.

The state Office of Policy and Management wrote in an email Monday that its concerns about the aging school’s condition, the sensitive nature of caring for the developmentally disabled clients already there, as well as several legal and procedural hurdles, prevent Connecticut from assisting.

“The vacant property that the state of Connecticut has is too small to accommodate your needs (which clearly must be at least several hundred thousand square feet of building space alone) and is typically in a state of disrepair to the point where a certificate of occupancy would be difficult to obtain,” Patrick M. O’Brien, assistant director of OPM’s Bureau of Assets Management wrote to an official at the U.S. General Services Administration’s New England regional offices. “Indeed, many existing structures are beyond salvage and require environmental remediation and demolition.”

Built in the late 1930s as a home for the developmentally disabled, it is the only large residential facility of its kind in the state.

Since 1984 the school has been the target of multiple court challenges alleging it lacks adequate services and other resources to serve its clients. Between 1997 and 2008, at least some portions of facility operations were under federal court oversight.

According to emails obtained by The Mirror, federal officials first contacted the Malloy administration on July 3 about the possibility of entering into a short-term lease to house, feed and provide medical care to 1,000 to 2,000 children who have entered the U.S. through Mexico from other countries in Central America.

Federal officials estimate as many as 90,000 children will be detained this year. Most are being held in Texas or elsewhere in the American Southwest. These sites cannot provide adequate care while the children, detained under the U.S. Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, are interviewed and processed for possible deportation back to their countries of origin.

The U.S. General Services Administration asked for approximately 90,000 square feet at Southbury for up to 2,000 children, who would stay for six months to a year.

The need for housing is “urgent” and the GSA is seeking to identify temporary sites immediately, Michael Strobel, senior realty specialist for the GSA’s New England region, wrote to Connecticut officials.

The federal government would have covered all living, medical and maintenance costs associated with the move.

But Connecticut officials wrote that the aging condition of Southbury is just one concern.

“Southbury Training School is home to adults in State care with developmental disabilities,” O’Brien wrote.  “Their families and the developmentally disabled community keep a watchful eye on the residents and the property itself.  Any new and significant activity at Southbury would be intensively scrutinized by a multitude of interest groups and organizations, and would face time-consuming challenges.”

More than 300 individuals currently receive an array of medical therapeutic, residential and other support services at Southbury, which employs more than 1,000 full- and part-time and consulting staff.

O’Brien added that state law requires a specific process be followed whenever an agency has “surplus” property it no longer needs. That process requires this surplus property be offered first to other state agencies, and then to Connecticut municipalities to see if they might need it.

The statute mandates a public comment period before any new use is allowed, and any final sales agreement must be approved by the bipartisan State Properties Review Board, two state legislative committees and by the Connecticut attorney general’s office.

“This process often takes a minimum of 18-24 months to complete and based upon the urgency expressed in your email, I can’t believe a 24 month time frame would meet your needs,” O’Brien wrote.

Connecticut’s U.S. senators, Christopher Murphy and Richard Blumenthal, called earlier this month for passage of an immigration reform bill that would expedite due process requirements for the detained children.

Most of these minors have fled Central America, or have been sent by their families, to escape violence and severe poverty at home, the senators said.

The children fleeing to the U.S. lack adequate health care and often become victims of human trafficking, rape and other violence and abuse, they said.

Keith has spent most of his 31 years as a reporter specializing in state government finances, analyzing such topics as income tax equity, waste in government and the complex funding systems behind Connecticut’s transportation and social services networks. He has been the state finances reporter at CT Mirror since it launched in 2010. Prior to joining CT Mirror Keith was State Capitol bureau chief for The Journal Inquirer of Manchester, a reporter for the Day of New London, and a former contributing writer to The New York Times. Keith is a graduate of and a former journalism instructor at the University of Connecticut.

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