Board members for the Office of Juvenile Affairs on Friday scrapped plans to build a new juvenile detention center in Ada.
Expected budget cuts to the state agency and rising operation costs were cited as reasons for canceling plans to sign a contract with an Ada group to build a new center.
Board members also directed the agency to conduct an internal review of the bidding process surrounding the contract and are asking for an attorney general's opinion on the legislation that allowed them to request proposals.
The contract, awarded in November to the Ada Youth Academy Authority, has been dogged by accusations of bid rigging and linked to a state senator and lobbyist's extramarital affair. Two contract signings were delayed because of reviews of the bidding.
Board Chairman Hastings Siegfried said the decision to halt the project is purely financial.
�For now, it's done,� Siegfried said. �If the agency's financial outlook gets better in the future, it will be up to OJA staff to bring it back to us for consideration.�
The agency estimates its 2011-12 budget could be cut 3 to 10 percent, resulting in a decrease of $2.9 million to $9.9 million to state programs for juvenile offenders.
Greg Pierce, chairman of the Ada Youth Academy Authority, said his team will meet next week to discuss how to proceed should there be an opportunity to rebid the project. He said their proposal would have saved the agency money, and it's still the best option for juvenile offenders.
The new center would replace the aging, maximum-security L.E. Rader Center in Sand Springs.
The Ada group proposed a nonsecure campus with 144 beds operated by Rite of Passage, a Colorado-based company that uses sports and academics as part of a rehabilitation curriculum.
The Ada proposal also called for about 50 maximum-security beds to be added to an existing detention center in Tecumseh.
The $10 million-a-year contract for the center came under scrutiny last year after The Oklahoman revealed state Sen. Harry Coates, 60, was having a romantic affair with lobbyist Haley Atwood, 30.
Atwood worked for Rite of Passage and a Norman architectural firm that would have designed the Ada campus.
Coates, R-Seminole, was among several lawmakers involved in legislation last year asking the agency to build a new detention center.
Failed bidders have said the Rite of Passage academy isn't what was asked for by the Legislature.
Coates did not return a call seeking comment Friday.
Office of Juvenile Affairs Director Gene Christian has been criticized for meeting with Coates and Atwood during the legislative session, making trips to Colorado to visit a Rite of Passage academy and having dinner at a private club with Rite of Passage representatives the night before bidders met with the agency's board.
A group of Clinton community leaders and Avalon Correctional Services, a private Oklahoma City-based company, were among the bidders who lost out to Ada.
Clinton Mayor Allen Bryson blames Christian for the controversy and the ensuing cancellation of construction of a new juvenile detention center.
�It's on his shoulders now,� Bryson said. �If this internal investigation is done properly, I have no doubt it will show Gene Christian was heavily involved in helping Ada when he shouldn't have been.�
Christian told board members Friday the internal review will be done by the Office of Public Integrity within his agency. The investigator will report only to Siegfried and the agency's attorney, he said.
Christian said he asked that the review be a priority to be completed in a month or two.
Even though Siegfried indicated there are no immediate plans to rebid the project, he proposed the board seek an attorney general's opinion in hopes of clarifying aspects of the state law outlining the bidding process for a new center.
The decisions Friday did nothing to solve the agency's problems with the L.E. Rader Center.
Shutting down Rader is still a priority, although no date has been set for its closure, said Paula Christiansen, spokeswoman for Office of Juvenile Affairs.
There are 47 juveniles in the 72-bed detention center. She said other centers in the state could possibly absorb juvenile inmates who require maximum security.