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Lax security at Baker Victory cited in Lackawanna hearing

Residents who attended a public hearing Thursday to discuss the construction of a proposed $16.2 million residential treatment facility by Baker Victory Services were united in their concern over lax security conditions at the current facility on Martin Road.

A janitor who works at the treatment facility at 125 Martin Road described fights among residents on the front lawn. A neighbor said residents and workers from the facility smoke on his front lawn.

Even the mayor of Lackawanna chimed in describing how the young residents break out on summer evenings to go swimming in the neighbors’ backyard pools.

“These aren’t little angels,” Mayor Geoffrey M. Szymanski said. “They are criminals, and we don’t want them in our neighborhood.”

With that, Szymanski offered a 3-inch stack of police and fire calls at the treatment center over the last eight years.

“That’s 1,622 calls for service,” the mayor said. “Nonprofits become a drain on city budgets. If Father Baker wanted to help these kinds of individuals, he would have founded it.”

The hearing held by the Lackawanna Planning and Development Board drew about 50 residents and 15 representatives of Baker Victory to the Lackawanna Senior Center. The hearing was the latest development for the beleaguered project that was proposed in 2009.

The current treatment facility, resembling a 1950s Army style barracks, is outdated, said Terese M. Scofidio, CEO of Baker Victory Services. It serves as a temporary home for 40 youth ages 13 to 21 with psychiatric and behavioral issues. Many are referred by the New York State Office of Mental Health, she said.

The average age of residents is just under 16, and the average stay is just over a year, said Scofidio, who took the top job six months ago. Eighty-two percent of residents come from the eight counties of Western New York, she said, and 40 percent of the population is female.

“Baker Victory is the largest employer in Lackawanna,” Scofidio said. “We have 123 residents on the payroll.”

She called the proposed new-build a replacement facility, emphasizing that the current population of 40 residents is a cap set by the state. It will not change, she said.

The 40 residents are split among three separate housing units, which further hampers the already outdated security system, she said.

Two of the existing structures that house the residents will be demolished. A third will be converted into an educational center.

Scofidio described the new 46,000-square-foot structure as in a parklike setting with increased landscaping defined by white spruce and shade trees. Surrounding the entire complex will be a 6-foot-high chain-link fence that will replace the current 4-foot fence. The fence, she said, will be hidden behind arborvitae.

The project will take 13 months to construct, said Scofidio, who was playing to a tough crowd.

“I could care less about what it’s going to look like,” said one young woman. “What about the security? The fence is not going to do it. Lackawanna High School has police guards. This place needs them, too.”

Baker Victory Services representatives have maintained that the new facility would be safer and more secure with fewer emergency calls. They described security features that included motion-detection devices, cameras, and two enclosed courtyards for recreation.

In addition, the residence will be located to the rear of the Martin Road property, north of Hamilton Avenue, farther away from neighborhood residences than the current treatment cottages.

Leo F. Murphy, a Stearns Avenue resident and the first to speak at the hearing, captured the sentiment of the audience when he told city planners:

“You don’t get the point. It’s not the fencing. It’s not the lighting. It’s not even the security. We don’t want it here, period.”

The Planning and Development Board will next meet Sept. 18, said Fred K. Heinle, director of development.

email: jkwiatkowski@buffnews.com