Edgemeade, a 27-year-old private residential treatment center for emotionally disturbed adolescent boys in Upper Marlboro, is embarking on a major renovation next week with a big financial boost from the state.
The center, run by a nonprofit corporation and one of seven such facilities in the state, is breaking ground on Tuesday for a $1.7 million dormitory and treatment complex.
For Edgemeade officials, who as recently as six years ago wrestled with an operation that was on the brink of bankruptcy, the construction and the $500,000 state aid symbolize a new, invigorated program.
"There was a time when we were about to go under. You might say we had a dubious reputation," said James P. McComb, executive director of the center, expressing pride at the turnabout in the center's fortunes. ". . . In giving us the money, the state has made a strong statement. They believe we have what it takes to treat these boys and they recognize that we stay with the kids."
Edgemeade, located on 16 wooded acres on the site of a former U.S. Army Nike missile base, is now operating in the black with a $2 million budget and repaying its old debts, McComb said. The expansion, spurred by the state grant, will involve building four dormitories and upgrading and expanding the therapeutic treatment center.
Del. Gary R. Alexander (D-Prince George's), who sponsored the state appropriation, said he was asked by Edgemeade officials for help at a crab feast fund-raiser sponsored by the center.
"The state has a good thing in Edgemeade because it's one of the best at what it does and the improvements will make it that much better," Alexander said. "It was apparent that they needed some improvements over there but that they couldn't raise the money on their own."
Alexander said the bill was passed with the stipulation that center officials match the appropriation. Jackie Gouveia, a resource development officer at Edgemeade, said the center has just about met the match through donations from foundations, loans and fund-raising efforts, although corporate contributions are still being sought.
Youths who are referred to the center by state and local service agencies have been diagnosed as having severe behavior, personality and neurological disorders. Of the students at the center, 87 percent are from Maryland and 60 percent are from Prince George's County.
"Many of these kids' problems stem from them being seriously neglected by their families and being bounced from so many foster homes," McComb said.
McComb said the construction project is significant because it will enable the center to accept adolescent girls for the first time since 1978. The center used to accept girls, he explained, but stopped when it was no longer able to maintain at least six girls at any given time, therefore creating an imbalance in the center's boy-to-girl ratio.
McComb said with the extra space, Edgemeade is asking the state to promise that at least six girls will be referred to the facility. McComb said officials at the state's Department of Mental Hygiene, which oversees adolescent centers such as Edgemeade, have in the past alleged that the centers lacked resources for young girls.
The new dormitories, which will resemble single-family homes with kitchens, bedrooms and living rooms, will also give the youths a home-like environment, which officials said is important in their treatment.
Two new therapeutic wings, a conference room, a reading room and a crisis intervention unit, will allow the center to better serve youths who live with their families but who receive daily treatment at the center, officials said.
McComb said the new dormitories, which will accommodate 12 youths each and replace the center's four barracks where the boys currently sleep, are scheduled for construction in two months with a completion date estimated at five to six months after construction begins. Renovation of the barracks, where the therapeutic wings and other treatment rooms will be housed, will begin immediately after completion of the new dormitories, McComb said.
Edgemeade first opened its doors in Olney in Montgomery County in 1959. In 1963, the center moved to its present location. The center is operated by 88 full-time employes.
Addressing concerns raised last summer by some county residents, McComb said the youths, whatever their problems, are not a threat to the rest of the community. The center came under fire by Camp Springs residents who vehemently opposed its efforts to locate in their neighborhood a group home for boys to be run by Edgemeade. After the local opposition, Edgemeade withdrew the proposal.
Some members of the Camp Springs Civic Association said they feared a home for troubled boys in their neighborhood could be a negative influence on their young children.
Jett Thacker, who with his wife moved into a house about 100 yards from the center in Upper Marlboro four years ago, said he also had reservations about living near the boys.
"But I feel sorry for them because most of them never really got a fair shake and all they need is a helping hand," Thacker said.