Denise Velasquez was in Pod B when the fire alarm sounded.
“When an alarm goes off, the first thing you look for is smoke, so I went looking for smoke and instead I found water,” said Velasquez, the shift supervisor on duty when a sprinkler broke at Robert E. DeNier Youth Services Center, flooding about half the building with up to 3 inches of water. “It was awful. I couldn’t sweep fast enough to keep the water out.”
It has been more than five weeks since an estimated 1,000 gallons soaked the juvenile detention center in Durango. Students have been relocated 167 miles to Grand Junction or 272 miles to Pueblo while repairs are being made.
The Jan. 29 incident was the result of a sprinkler pipe that broke high above the gymnasium floor, between the roof and the ceiling. A heating unit failed, which caused the pipe to freeze and break at one of the joints. The ceiling held most of the water before collapsing like a waterfall.
Water soaked the gym floor, two detention pods, several offices and half the dining area. Cleanup crews had to drill holes in the walls to allow them to drain, said Karen Murray, program director of Rite of Passage, which operates the juvenile detention center.
The flooding caused about $100,000 in damage.
Staff members and paid workers have been working everyday to make repairs. They’re replacing much of the flooring, including carpet, tiling and the wood surface of the gym. They’ve gone through 20 to 25 gallons of paint, giving all the walls a fresh coat, from ceiling to floor. And they’re taking advantage of this time to reorganize the library and sort through dozens of sneakers, among other tasks.
“We felt like everything else was getting fixed and repaired, and felt like why not (do these other projects),” Murray said Tuesday during a tour.
DeNier was built in 1999 and opened Jan. 1, 2000, at 720 Turner Drive in Bodo Industrial Park. The building is owned by the state of Colorado and is operated by Rite of Passage, a privately held, for-profit entity.
The center has 28 beds – 19 for long-term commitment and nine for short-term detention. Only eight students were being housed in DeNier at the time of the flood.
Rite of Passage hopes to have it reopened by early April.
“This is the first time it has ever been closed down,” said Kent Moe, executive director for the mountain region of Rite of Passage.
The juvenile detention center serves a vital role in Southwest Colorado. Before it was built, juvenile offenders were taken to Grand Junction, which created a hardship on law enforcement that had to transport them and parents who wanted to visit.
“It’s really a community facility to prevent kids in the Four Corners from being sent elsewhere,” Moe said.
Rite of Passage provides a number of programs including academic, career and technical education; a wellness program that includes calisthenics or running three miles a day; a status system that allows kids to earn good-behavior ratings, which gives them more freedoms and the ability to do community service; and therapeutic and counseling services.
“It’s not your typical juvenile hall,” Moe said. “It’s more of a structured program that has a predictable schedule. ... Everything is tailored to the kids’ needs and risks.”
The detention center is “normalized” as much as possible, even though it is a locked-down institution, Moe said.
“We feel very fortunate that there was no long-term damage to the facility, and we’ll be able to reopen in a relatively short period of time,” Moe said.