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Westover Job Corps Center Complaints

The following story is from the “Massachusetts Local News”

http://www.masslive.com/news/index.ssf/2009/02/complaints_from_chicopee_resid.html

“Complaints from Chicopee residents prompt Westover Job Corps Center to impose earlier curfew for students”

By Dwight B. Shepard

February 05, 2009, 8:30PM

By HOLLY ANGELO

hangelo@repub.com


CHICOPEE – Reacting to concerns from city officials and residents, the Westover Job Corps Center has instituted an earlier curfew and instructed its 555 students to behave themselves while out in the community or suffer the consequences.


Reports by residents of vandalism and harassment in the Fairview neighborhood by some Job Corps students were aired earlier this week at a neighborhood meeting.


On Thursday, Westover Job Corps Director Michael T. Riley sent a memorandum to students and staff members, instructing them to attend a school assembly Friday at which the new rules and expectations will be announced.


“We have to step it up,” said Riley this week. “I understand the community’s concerns. I want to support them in every possible way.”


The 10 p.m. curfew has been changed to 8 p.m., except for supervised trips. Students have been told that nearby Preston Park, side streets, and housing areas near the Johnson Road center are off-limits.


They have also been reminded that bad language and drinking are also prohibited. Failure to obey these expectations and rules could mean expulsion from the federal job training program.


“We’re taking it very, very seriously,” Riley said. “We’re going to make sure the standards are raised.”


Mayor Michael D. Bissonnette suggested the 8 p.m. curfew.


“We can’t have them being out at all hours disrupting the neighborhood and causing vandalism in the park,” he said. “It’s not going to be tolerated.”


At the same time, the mayor said the city and the center have had a good relationship, and that only a percentage of students are causing problems. The center frequently organizes community service projects for its students, who range in age from 16 to 24.


Riley is scheduled to meet on Feb. 17 with the mayor, Police Chief John R. Ferraro Jr., and Ward 9 Alderman Ronald R. Belair to discuss the problems reported by Fairview residents and police.


On March 23 at 6 p.m., the mayor and the Aldermanic Public Safety Committee will host a public hearing on the matter at the Castle of Knights on Memorial Drive.


“They’re being intimidated and harassed and sometimes threatened,” said Belair, who is chairman of the Public Safety Committee and the alderman who represents Fairview. “It’s unacceptable. They need to control their students better.”


He said there have been reports of car break-ins in the neighborhoods. Broken bottles, graffiti, and drug paraphernalia have been found at Preston Park, located on Access Road off James Street. Residents have complained of being harassed by Job Corps students there.


Ferraro said the police have responded to 55 calls at the center in the past year. This does not include calls in the community involving Job Corps students.


“It’s a problem,” Ferraro said. “If the kids are going to come off the campus and into the city, they have to act appropriately. We’re spending too much time dealing with them.”


Riley said the center is increasing its security staff and making hourly patrols of Preston Park and the surrounding area. He said anyone who has concerns should call (413) 593-4000.


“Nobody should have to live with that type of nonsense,” Riley said.


However, he said the majority of students arrive at the Job Corps Center to change their behavior and develop skills they can take to the job market.


“It’s one bad apple spoils the whole bushel,” Riley said.


The Job Corps program is funded by the U.S. Labor Department.


Of the 555 male and female students, 500 live on the campus. Most are from outside Western Massachusetts.


During the 2007 program year, the Westover center was ranked 116 out of 120 overall nationally.

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