The Bulletin Board

Bill extending deadline to close Sununu Center clears Senate, heads to the House

By: - January 26, 2023 2:31 pm
Exterior sign for the Sununu Youth Services Center

The bill does not say where a new facility will be built. (Dave Cummings | New Hampshire Bulletin)

The Senate took the first step Thursday to buy the state more time to close the Sununu Youth Services Center and build a new facility. The legislation still needs House approval and the governor’s signature before the March 1 deadline lawmakers set last year. 

Senate Bill 1 passed unanimously after an amendment addressed safety concerns of some senators. 

Sponsored by Sen. Sharon Carson, a Londonderry Republican, the bill moves the deadline to Nov. 1, 2024, and requires a new facility to have no more than 12 beds but have the capacity to house 18 youths if necessary. 

The bill does not say where a new facility will be built. Lawmakers have discussed Manchester, where the current center is, Concord, or Hampstead, where the state recently purchased a hospital it intends to turn into a mental health treatment campus. 

Closing the 144-bed Sununu Youth Services Center, a locked facility in Manchester for court-involved juveniles ages 13 to 17, has long had bipartisan support. It’s bigger and more costly than needed for the five to 10 juveniles there at a time, and it does not offer the therapeutic, home-like setting lawmakers support.

Prior efforts have stalled over the cost and size of a new facility.

The bill includes $15 million, which the governor has told senators will come from American Rescue Plan Act funds, for design and construction. The Department of Administrative Services has estimated it will cost $25 million to build a new facility, however, and that construction could take until 2028, well past the Nov. 1, 2024, deadline.

The bill will go to the House with an amendment that would establish a commission to study the safety of a secured youth development center. The commission would include lawmakers, state officials, and a member of the community where the new facility is to be built.

“This is critical that we get this done,” Carson said to colleagues ahead of Thursday’s vote. “We have to remember that we’re talking about some of our state’s neediest children, and we have to do the right thing, and I want to thank all of you in this chamber for working together to do the right thing.”

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Annmarie Timmins
Annmarie Timmins

Senior reporter Annmarie Timmins is a New Hampshire native who covered state government, courts, and social justice issues for the Concord Monitor for 25 years. During her time with the Monitor, she won a Nieman Fellowship to study journalism and mental health courts at Harvard for a year. She has taught journalism at the University of New Hampshire and writing at the Nackey S. Loeb School of Communications.