TOLEDO | The Iowa Juvenile Home closed its doors Wednesday morning, surprising its 93 employees who anticipated they would vacate the facility Thursday evening.
An impromptu bell-ringing ceremony on campus and hasty good-byes signaled the shuttering of the facility that has served troubled youths in Toledo since 1920.
Employees will remain on-call until their final layoff time and will be paid through Thursday. Still, the closing was another disappointment for the staff, many of whom have worked on the 27-acre campus for decades.
“They are paying us, but it’s a blow,” IJH youth services employee Todd Sprague said. “It was a huge life-change for everybody.”
Employees were expecting an extra day to calmly pack up their things and say their good-byes, said Sprague, who has worked at IJH for the past eight years.
Sprague learned the facility would be closing ahead of schedule when he was on his way to work around 10 a.m. Wednesday.
When he left Tuesday night, he had volunteered to shift his schedule, meaning that he and other employees expected they would have another couple days of work even though the final juvenile had been moved from Toledo’s campus earlier that day.
Dave Nagle, who has been speaking on behalf of the IJH supporters, and Sprague both complained of the treatment employees faced when they came onto campus Wednesday.
“They brought the highway patrol, and they told teachers you’ve got one hour to get out of here,” said Nagle, adding they were led out “like common criminals.”
Sprague agreed, noting the locks had been changed and additional state troopers were present.
He called it “unfortunate and irritating,” that once again employees were caught off-guard by decisions made about the facility.
When the announcement was made to close the facility on Dec. 9, many employees found out when they got into work or from co-workers who heard the news.
Amy Lorentzen McCoy, public information officer for the Iowa Department of Human Services, acknowledged this is a difficult time for the IJH employees, but stressed their bargaining agreements are being honored.
“The state has assisted them through the layoff process and continues to offer services and supports through the Employee Assistance Program and Iowa Workforce Development,” McCoy wrote in a statement. “The layoff is being implemented in accordance with relevant collective bargaining agreements.”
A layoff protocol in place, which includes collecting state identification badges, final timesheets and keys.
With on-site staff presence limited, it is “prudent to protect the resources paid for by Iowa’s taxpayers by ensuring facilities are secure," McCoy said.
McCoy added Iowa State Troopers are on the campus for additional security, as needed.
“Because the last youth left the facility Tuesday, requirements for on-site staff are minimal,” McCoy wrote. “Staff are being paid for their scheduled hours through the final layoff date/time whether or not their ongoing presence on campus is required.”
McCoy added the “best interest of the youth” remains the top concern of Iowa DHS, and reiterated the department’s commitment to continuing to serve the type of youth that had been served by Iowa Juvenile Home.
Though the facility began as an orphanage when it opened its doors nearly 94 years ago, it has since become a place that serves children in need of assistance and juvenile delinquents throughout the state.
It has served both boys and girls, although recently it had shifted its focus to helping young women.
McCoy said the department continues to monitor the placements of the young women who had been residing at IJH and to work with its juvenile court partners to find the most appropriate placements in licensed or accredited settings.
Gov. Terry Branstad announced on Dec. 9 that he would close the facility that had operated in Toledo since 1920 by Jan. 16.
His decision followed a task force submitting recommendations for improving the facility, and an investigation by The Des Moines Register outlining problems at the campus that helped troubled girls.
When Branstad announced the closure, there were 21 girls on campus and 93 employees.
Though employees expected the doors to be shuttered, they are not finished fighting to keep the facility in operation.
They are scheduled to meet with lawmakers next week to discuss the closure, and a lawsuit has been filed in the Polk County District Court by four Democratic lawmakers and the state's public employees' union against the governor's actions.