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Boot camp where Martin Lee Anderson Died is being renovated.

In Institutional Child Abuse on February 5, 2009 at 1:20 pm

Former Bay County Boot Camp which has been closed since April 2006, was being renovated as of Feb 4, 2009.

Teen Court and Guardian as Litem will be sharing the building.

County finds new use for old boot camp

February 4, 2009 – 6:42PM

PANAMA CITY—Martin Lee Anderson entered the old Bay County Boot Camp on Jan. 5, 2006, a troubled 14-year-old. He left on a stretcher, and soon after his death the next day, he became a cause célèbre.

While controversy over Anderson’s death raged on, the building where it happened sat empty, the land unused.

The Bay County Boot Camp closed on April 6, 2006, and the next month Gov. Jeb Bush signed a law shuttering the rest of Florida’s boot camps.

Almost three years later, the building will re-open to house the Guardian ad Litem and Teen Court programs. Bay County employees are completing the renovation for $70,000, instead of contracting out for an estimated $250,000 to $280,000.

Work started Monday to convert the building into office space.

The site will not feature any marker or memorial to Anderson when it re-opens this summer. The fence and light pole he was held against by guards is still there, though.

The backyard, where the teenaged inmates did pushups, sit-ups, and ran laps up a hill, is now leveled. A bulldozer sat in the middle of the yard Wednesday, with a mountain of dirt still to move.

The loud clap of hammers against nails pierced the cold morning, as a county crew put the framework of the new offices together.

“We are very excited,” said June Lashbrook, director of Guardian ad Litem’s 14th Circuit office. The program’s staff of 16 occupied a workspace suited for only seven in the Juvenile Justice Courthouse, across 11th Street from the boot camp.

Lashbrook hopes her program, which provides legal representation for abused and neglected children, and Teen Court bring some good to a building that holds painful memories.

“I think it’s making something so very positive out of a tragedy, because this will now enable us to have the space that we so desperately need,” she said.

The county owned the boot camp land, but the state owned the building, and after years of haggling, the two sides reached a deal. Because the same land and building conflicts existed across the street at the Juvenile Justice Courthouse, the county and state arranged a swap, so that the county owns the entire boot camp site, while the state owns the courthouse site.

“This is just a dream we never thought would ever come true,” said Suzanne Cox, director of Teen Court, which arranges for first-time misdemeanor offenders ages 12 to 18 to do community service through a sentencing process that includes volunteer teenagers as lawyers and jurors.

Cox surveyed a former boot camp classroom, which will become her courtroom. The only sign left of the room’s former use was a metal pencil sharpener, the old kind with the crank, screwed into the windowsill.

Outside, two workers pulled nails out of wooden planks stripped from the building, so the wood can be reused. A host of county departments are involved with the renovation, which should be complete by June 5.

“This basically is just a cleanup, a fix-up,” said Mike Gordon, county builders services director. The former boot camp inmate bedrooms are being turned into offices. Teen Court’s bathroom is a converted men’s room; the urinals will be boxed over instead of removed to save money.

The county is still searching for someone to take the barbed wire from the fence surrounding the property, one of the final exterior signs of the property’s former use.

“It’s pretty hard to find somebody to work with that stuff,” said Assistant County Manager Dan Shaw. “It’s unclear at this time (who is disposing of the barbed wire), but it’s going away.”

ON THE WEB –  See a video of the renovation of the old Bay County Boot Camp

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