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Future of Youth Assessment Center uncertain

CHAMPAIGN -- After just seven months, a youth center helping young people could close.
CHAMPAIGN -- After just seven months, a youth center helping young people could close. The Youth Assessment Center opened in October. The school district owns the property and says it may not renew the lease. WCIA-3's Amanda Porterfield finds out why.

The school district has a lot of properties they need to sell or trade. The center is one of them.

But, in a short amount of time, the center has helped a lot of people and that could save it from closing. Mary Shores has two sons. One came to the center for help. It changed the whole family.

"There's such a value in what they're doing here. There really is."

Her older son is autistic and, after a meltdown at school, he was suspended to the Youth Assessment Center.

"This place is like going into the terminal. They look at your situation and they have access to many different programs."

Through those programs, she's learned to deal with problems at home, become closer to her kids and helped her younger son, Hayden, stay out of trouble.

"I think there can be an impression that this is for troubled kids. And it's not. It's something for kids before they get in trouble."

Shores is one of nearly 500 families who've gotten help here in just seven months.

"Everything has gotten much better."

Many in the community are sad to hear it may not stick around. The building is worth about $300,000 and could be sold or traded.

"As a school board, we are looking to consolidate our properties and make use of our taxpayer money. So, this building is a building we talked about putting up for sale."

School board president Laurie Bonnet is one of seven who will decided if it stays or goes. After hearing stories like the Shores', she believes there's no rush.

"It doesn't have to happen at the end of the lease. We still have some opportunity to make some changes. We haven't signed any paper with anyone as to the sale of the property and the work is important. We are all working toward the same goals of keeping our kids safe."

The board could make a decision as early as its meeting this month.

City leaders who helped open the center are also working to keep it going. The Champaign Police Department, State's Attorney's Office and Community Coalition went to a board meeting this week. Julia Rietz says it took years to get the center going and thousands of dollars to clean up the building which is in the perfect spot.

"It's not just the work that's being done. This building is so ideal for that purpose. It's free-standing, centrally-located, accessible to the youth families, law enforcement. We are really hopeful we can continue to use this space."

Currently, the rent is free. They pay utilities and salaries. If that changes, they would have to find a lot more money to keep it open. Rietz says they could start charging a small fee for services.
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