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Crisis Center expresses interest in former KidsPeace Prairie Academy

WORTHINGTON -- The former KidsPeace Prairie Academy attached to the Prairie Justice Center north of Worthington may have some new tenants soon, if local nonprofit agencies get their wish.

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Sara Wahl, director of the Southwest Crisis Center, provided an update to Nobles County Commissioners Tuesday about the potential use of some of the KidsPeace space to operate a supervised visitation program for families involved in child protection, child welfare or untreated mental health situations.

Wahl is searching for a place for custodial and noncustodial parents to come together in a "peaceful location." The KidsPeace Prairie Academy was vacated Oct. 31, 2008, and Wahl said the supervised visitation program could utilize nearly half of the building's available space. Two other local nonprofits are interested in the remaining portion of the building, she added.

Wahl said families who are court-ordered to have supervised visitation must currently drive to either Slayton, Marshall or Sioux Falls, S.D.

"A lot of times judges won't even court-order because there isn't a place to go," Wahl explained.

Wahl is hopeful the county will provide the building space at no cost, with the Crisis Center willing to cover the cost for utilities and staffing.

The estimated cost to operate the program -- without building rent -- is approximately $150,000 per year, Wahl said, adding that the facility would need evening and weekend hours to accommodate families with working parents.

"I'd love to have the space just given to us," she said. "Most of the referrals would come from the county. You get court referrals and child protection referrals, also for divorce cases. I know our judge is in support of this."

There is the potential to access a $400,000 federal grant, but there are strings attached -- including a desire that supervised visitation centers not be co-located in buildings that also house law enforcement.

"They're going to take it on a case-by-case basis," Wahl said, adding that state funding may also be available without such strict guidelines.

Wahl said Nobles County Family Services has expressed interest in contracting with the Southwest Crisis Center for the supervised visitation program.

"Right now, their social workers are providing services, and I think it's a stretch for some of them to do it," she said.

"Some of these are divorce cases where parents don't get along, and a lot are child protection cases where the children have been removed from the home while the parents are getting counseling," explained Nobles County Attorney Kathleen Kusz. "For child protection cases, having a center to provide supervised visitation will be very helpful."

Wahl said that while the Southwest Crisis Center is pursuing the supervised visitation program, it will be a separate entity, with its own staff and hours of operation.

"The main reason why we need to be separate is it's already a conflict of interest," she explained. "We could already be working with one of the parents."

While the Southwest Crisis Center continues to await a decision from Nobles County on whether to provide the building space at no cost, Wahl is making some notes on what would need to be done to the space to meet the agency's needs.

"We would have video surveillance and someone documenting what is being said," Wahl shared, adding that two rooms will also need one-way mirrors. Other than that, she said a new coat of paint would help make the place ready for use. She'd like the space to be ready for use by Jan. 1.

"We've started working on some of our policies and procedures -- the next step is developing an advisory council," Wahl said. "This would be open to all five of our counties that we serve.

"We're really excited about it," she added. "We're hoping it will work."

The Southwest Crisis Center will mark its 30th anniversary in 2014. Serving the counties of Rock, Nobles, Jackson, Cottonwood and Pipestone, the center works with victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and more recently, elder abuse.

Since Oct. 1, 2012, the center has assisted 14 victims of sexual assault, 163 victims of domestic violence, safe-housed 39 victims and children, and provided information and referrals to 1,200 individuals.

Just in Nobles County in the last three months, the center has assisted 37 victims of domestic violence -- nine of whom were children; four victims of sexual assault; and 35 individuals needed safe housing. They also had 443 contacts with clients, working with each client an average of one to two months.

"We offer support groups, and we try to be that lifeline for people if they have questions," Wahl said.

Her report was taken under advisement by commissioners.

In other action, the board:

  • Approved the low bid from Henning Construction, Adrian, of $297,535, to replace a Hersey Township bridge south of Brewster. The work will be done in September or October.
  • Approved the final payment of $141,995.29 to CSI Construction, Alexandria, for bituminous paving.
  • Approved the purchase of the Beacon Project program for the county's information-technology department. The program will allow the county to upload GIS data onto a web portal for public access to information on properties, streets, flood zones -- anything the public would want to see, said Bryan Erickson, G.I.S. coordinator. The program was in the department's budget for this year and will have annual maintenance costs of $8,700. Recorder's fees will help cover the cost of the system.
  •  Approved a final payment of $34,355.95, to Prairie Sons Inc., for the boiler project and improvements at the Nobles County Government Center.
  • Announced there are two candidates up for consideration for the county auditor-treasurer position.
  • Approved a .5 percent increase for all home- and community-based waivered services provided through Nobles County Human Services.
  • Approved an extension of the MinnesotaCare contract through December. 
  • Was introduced to two new employees in the Information-Technology department: Alexis Johnson, the new help desk technician; and Bryan Erickson, the new G.I.S. Coordinator. Both are recent college graduates and natives of Minnesota.
  • Recognized Donna Welnetz as the July Excellence in Performance Award recipient. Welnetz is a 20-year employee of the Nobles County Recorder's office.
  • Approved a request from the Lao Buddhist Temple for a 3.2 beer license to serve beer at an Aug. 24 event.
Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at

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