QUANTICO – With plans to open a drug treatment center in a vacant correctional facility, officials in Wicomico County presented last week their visions of what could become of the space.
Since last July, Wicomico County has spearheaded efforts to convert the shuttered Poplar Hill Pre-Release Unit, a state-owned correctional facility in Quantico, into a residential treatment center.
Officials said the idea is to partner with the state, a service provider and other agencies to offer an immediate and long-term option for those seeking treatment for drug addiction.
In a tour of the facility last week, County Executive Bob Culver said the facility will house 20 men initially, but will expand to a co-ed treatment center in the coming years.
This is going to be a joint project …,” he said. “This treatment center will be for anybody on this side of the Bay Bridge.”
But to do that, officials said the facility – which sat vacant for two years – would have to be renovated. The county plans to use a portion of a $972,000 state grant to remove window bars, install air conditioning and retrofit existing bunk rooms, among other things.
“These would be converted into private rooms, or maybe even double rooms …,” said Assistant Director of Administration Weston Young. “We are going to take what was a pre-release unit and convert it to what it feels like walking into a house.”
Culver said the state grant must be spent by July. But officials noted the county still needs to find a service provider to operate the treatment center, as well as negotiate a long-term lease to use the building, which would require approval from the Wicomico County Council.
“We negotiate the lease and then we present it to council,” Young said. “If they have any tweaks to it, we sort of debate that then and there.”
Amid turmoil between the county executive and the county council, it’s unclear how that meeting will play out. But Young said he expects to go before the legislative branch in March.
“Right now we are looking at a 20-year term with two five-year renewals,” he said. “Our intention is to then sublease to a service provide at similar terms.”
While Poplar Hill is a state-owned facility, the county will act as a facilitator in launching the treatment center. Young said they are currently seeking additional grants and low-interest loans from USDA Rural Development and bids from service providers.
“We just got the bids in yesterday afternoon, but we only got one,” he said. “We now need to figure out what’s in that bid, if that’s acceptable and talk to the people that showed interest but didn’t put in a bid.”
Culver said the treatment facility would be a vital resource for the community. He highlighted plans to provide observation, detox and recovery services and efforts to seek job opportunities for residents.
“With longer term care, you need to get them a job, a profession or training or something to put them back into the workforce …,” he said. “That’s the kind of community partners we are looking for.”
Culver added the treatment center would also serve as a model for other state facilities.
“There’s other prisons that have become available because of the decline in prison population,” he said. “This will be an example for the rest of the state as far as opioid treatment.”
Culver said he hopes to have the facility up and running by next year.
“The last thing I ever want to see is us throw away people,” he said. “I’m for doing whatever I can do to lend a helping hand.”