Silver Lake neighbors grill group home operator

A public meeting in a private place got a little contentious Monday night. Scott Bakeberg, executive director of Village Ranch Youth Services, led the informal gathering at the home of Chuck Solseth to discuss a new 12-bed residential youth facility...

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Property on corner of W. Silver Lake Drive Northeast and First Avenue Northeast.

A public meeting in a private place got a little contentious Monday night.

Scott Bakeberg, executive director of Village Ranch Youth Services, led the informal gathering at the home of Chuck Solseth to discuss a new 12-bed residential youth facility at 1117 1st Ave. N.E., just across the road from Silver Lake Park. Bakeberg and his colleagues were on hand to address concerns neighbors had regarding the proposed group home.

Bakeberg said neighbors of a proposed facility usually ask questions such as what the company does and how long it has been around.

"There are different levels of placement depending on risk," Bakeberg said. "The top level is a place like juvenile detention. We fall down at the bottom, and we're about at the level of a foster home."

About 20 neighbors asked about the types of youths placed in the home, how Village Ranch's program worked and staffing. But the main concern revolved around the size of the building.


Dewey Day, who served as mayor of Rochester from 1969 to 1973, said his biggest concern was that the house would not have enough room for a dozen teenage boys.

"You just can't expect a kid to come home and just go into what must be a pretty small bedroom," Day said. He added that he did not believe the company's building permits had been thoroughly vetted, and residents might want to consider legal action to stop the construction. "You've got too much stuff for that little lot."

However, Bakeberg explained that Village Ranch had hired local builders and architects to ensure that Rochester's permit process was followed to the letter. While the bedrooms in the home might be small, that is by design.

"We don't want our kids hanging out in their bedrooms," he said. By making the bedrooms small, clients will be forced to interact with their housemates and staff members, helping them develop social and life skills. The design for the home includes a large gathering area in the basement, a common dining area and a common room with a fireplace on the main floor. In total, the building will have 3,200 square feet on the main level and upstairs, plus the basement.

"There will be a lot of common areas for them to hang out," he said.

The entire purpose of the home is to help structure the youths' time and help them become better members of the community, Bakeberg said. To that end, each client will be required to spend two hours a week volunteering in the community. That commitment has led to letters of support from the organizations in Hutchinson, where Village Ranch runs a similar home. Bakeberg brought letters from that town's police, fire department, school district and chamber of commerce as well as other civic organizations.

The Rochester home will house up to 12 boys ages 13 to 19 who have been referred by child protection, the Department of Human Services or probation.

"Primarily, they'll be between 15 and 17," Bakeberg said.


Part of the reason the site near Silver Lake was chosen, he said, was for its proximity to public transportation and the Rochester Recreation Center. Buses will allow youths to travel to and from jobs, and the Rec Center will give the boys a place to blow off steam.

Solseth, who hosted the meeting in his home, said he initially was against the idea, but after talking to Bakeberg, had come to support the project. Still, he asked questions along with the rest of his neighbors.

"What if you have a child who is a problem in the home?" Solseth asked.

"We would remove them," said Bakeberg. "We'd return them to the county from which they'd come. We don't have to take anyone. We can turn him down. We turn a lot of kids down. We're not begging to get kids."

Other questions asked and answered included where Village Ranch gets its funding: "From the county that places the child with us."

Bakeberg added that the home in Rochester would cost about $700,000, which included the purchase of the land, city fees and construction costs.

How would the children be supervised? There would be at least one adult in the home with the boys at all times, he said.

Bakeberg apologized for not holding a meeting with future neighbors earlier, but since he lives and works on the other side of the Twin Cities, and the permit process was being handled by his contractors in Rochester, it was hard to get a meeting set up. That said, he hoped that within a year, the staff and residents of the group home would be welcome neighbors.


"I guarantee, we get back together a year from now, and then we'll see how you feel," he said. "History has shown we are part of the community where we have a presence. But we go into this knowing we have a system that can change lives."

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