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TOWN OFFICIALS OPPOSE PLAN TO ALLOW BOYS TO STAY AT HOPEVALE

Hopevale, already the home of 80 troubled girls, plans to add up to 16 boys, and Town of Hamburg officials fear there will be even more problems at the residential facility.

Four of the five Town Board members have written to Hopevale objecting to the plan and accusing the facility of breaking its promise to limit the facility to girls.

But the executive director of Hopevale said that the promise of 2001 referred to a detention facility and that Hopevale is not adding one. What it is doing, starting in January, is offering the same residential treatment for boys that it has for girls since 1971.

Boys have been attending day school at Hopevale for years, and most other facilities similar to Hopevale have residential programs for boys and girls, according to Mark O'Brien, executive director.

Having both sexes tends to reduce the number of problems, not add to them, by "normalizing the environment," he said in an interview.

Financial considerations are a large factor in the decision to add boys who have been referred by the court system as PINS (persons in need of supervision) or juvenile delinquents.

Hopevale has a capacity of 108, but the population has shrunk to 82 and has been in the 70s much of the year, resulting in a monthly revenue loss of at least $148,000, O'Brien said in a letter to the town.

"If there are no changes, we will soon be out of business," he said.

The program will not be for boys who have been charged with sexual crimes, O'Brien said in the letter. The boys will live in a separate cottage on the 55-acre campus off Howard Road.

But the four board members said in a letter to O'Brien that they object to the proposal and that it appears "you have broken your promise to the town to maintain this site for girls only.

"We have strong concerns regarding the problems your facility and our bordering neighborhoods may experience with males housed at Hopevale."

Police Chief Joseph Coggins said that over the past three years his department has averaged 222 calls a year from Hopevale, ranging from assaults to disorderly conduct to reports of runaways.

There recently was an arson, when a girl set curtains afire, Coggins said.

It remains to be seen what will happen with boys there, "but it won't make things easier," Coggins said.

O'Brien didn't deny that the teenagers at Hopevale can be troublesome -- they wouldn't be there otherwise -- but said he thinks that the number of incidents has actually gone down recently and that the staff has taken steps to curb the number of false fire alarms.

While the four Town Board members -- D. Mark Cavalcoli, Kathleen C. Hochul, Joan A. Kesner and Thomas J. Quatroche Jr. -- signed the letter to Hopevale, Supervisor Patrick H. Hoak did not.

Hoak said he withheld his signature because he wants more information "and I would hate to see it go empty."

e-mail: ternst@buffnews.com

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