Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
Troubled Kellogg House to close May 2

By: Jason Rowe
Journal Inquirer
February 24, 2006

VERNON - Kellogg House, the embattled state-funded group home for abused and neglected boys on Union Street, will close its doors May 2, town officials said Thursday.

After months of complaints from local officials, the state Department of Children and Families has notified the group home's operator, Windsor-based Community Solutions Inc., that the state agency intends to stop using the home.

The move comes several weeks after the town ordered Community Solutions to stop housing delinquent youngsters at the center, which houses boys between the ages of 11 and 17 who are in DCF custody.

DCF spokesman Gary Kleeblatt said today that the agency decided to stop using Kellogg House in the wake of Gov. M. Jodi Rell's push to create 14 smaller centers throughout the state that would provide more intensive services.

"The department wants to move to a different mode for these kinds of services," Kleeblatt said. "Because the governor set this direction, we thought it was the right time."

Kleeblatt said Kellogg House houses only two children at the moment.

News of the home's impending closing brings an end to a tumultuous stretch at the center, which was supposed to house children in need of emergency placement - because of abuse, neglect, or abandonment - for an average of 30 days.

But during its operation, the house at 62 Union St. became home to young people with extensive delinquent backgrounds for much longer periods of time.

After a series of meetings between local leaders and Community Solutions officials, Building Inspector Gene F. Bolles issued a "cease and desist" order against the home on Jan. 3. In his order, Bolles cited several instances where the home violated a 1997 zoning agreement with the town.

"It just wasn't working," Bolles said Thursday. "It's not what it started out to be."

Police calls to the facility skyrocketed during 2005, with police responding to the center 154 times. Of those calls, 85 came between Nov. 1 and late December.

By comparison, police were called to Kellogg House 62 times in 2004.

The vast majority of those calls were for runaway complaints, which must be recorded and investigated by police, despite the fact that most of the incidents were simply disciplinary issues.

During the past year, town officials met frequently with representatives from Community Solutions to find ways to prevent the placement of delinquents at the home.

And in December, Community Solutions Chief Executive Officer Robert D. Pidgeon sent a letter to DCF Commissioner Darlene Dunbar recommending that the Kellogg House program be relocated to a Community Solution's center in Bloomfield.

But those meetings did not yield a solution to keep the Vernon center open and operating in compliance with the initial agreement.

Mayor Ellen L. Marmer, a frequent critic of DCF's handling of the center, said Thursday that she was "relieved" when she received news Wednesday notifying her of the facility's closing.

In addition to taxing police resources, Marmer said, the center became a hindrance in the effort to revive the Rockville section of town.

"As a pediatric oriented person, I'm unhappy that the facility couldn't be maintained as originally intended," said Marmer, who is a pediatric cardiologist. "It wasn't good for the young ones who were salvageable and it certainly wasn't the proper venue to take care of the more hardcore ones that are in the system."

Since the town issued its cease-and-desist order last month, Marmer said, the number of police calls to the center have dropped drastically. Marmer said she is unsure of what will become of the building that housed the Kellogg House, but she added that she would be open to discussions about future uses for the building.

Community Solutions Vice President Susan Pribyson said today that the company is exploring the possibility of housing adult programs at the house.

"DCF is ending the model that was used at Kellogg, statewide," Pribyson said.

In the past, Pidgeon has said he agrees with town officials who have been critical of the Kellogg House operation and its population. At one point, Pidgeon said the home was housing an 18-year-old as well as a 17-year-old who had fathered two children of his own.

And not all complaints at Kellogg House have been related to runaways.

In December, police responded to the house after a 14-year-old boy injured a staff member's hand. Police said the assault occurred when a staff member was attempting to speak to the teen about a hygiene matter.

The staff member had to be transported by ambulance across the street to Rockville General Hospital for treatment of a minor injury.

After being released from police custody, the teen was returned to the custody of DCF officials, who immediately returned him to Kellogg House. But less than three hours later, that youth and two other males ran away from the home.

The safety of residents at the group home has also concerned previous mayors.

In December 1999, then-Mayor Stephen C. Marcham questioned safety conditions at the home after an 11-year-old boy was accused of choking a 13-year-old boy he believed had stolen his Pokemon trading cards.

©Journal Inquirer 2006