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Small Town Upset, Outraged Over Sale Of Former Youth Facility To Islamic School Consulting Firm

SHENANGO TOWNSHIP (KDKA) -- There are more questions than answers about the future of the former Youth Development Center in Shenango Township, Lawrence County.

The 143-acre, state-owned property has been vacant for the past four years.

The state just recently accepted the highest of three bids on the property from a company called HIRA Education Services. But there are questions about the company's plans for the land, located near the Shenango Industrial Park.

On its website, HIRA say it's a consulting firm with "a mission to promote the ongoing success of Islamic schools," adding, "We offer our services to Islamic schools that are not getting aid from the government."

The company says it's headquartered in an apartment in Newark, New Jersey. It employees one person and generates $41 million in annual revenue.

Shirley Sallmen is a vocal critic of the state's bidding process.

She told KDKA-TV's Ralph Iannotti, "I would hope the governor would say this is all null and void. We're going to open this up to bidding again. I don't care what they do in two or three weeks, but they need to put it in the New Castle News to make people around here aware of it."

On Facebook, there was a lot more criticism of the YDC sale.

One woman wrote: "Is the sale of the YDC going to replace the number of jobs we lost when it closed? I doubt it."

Another person wrote: "It makes me sick. It seems like the people don't have any say in what happens in our communities.

The Facebook page also contained a number of racial slurs and disparaging ethnic comments.

Bill Cheslock said he used to work at the detention center. He doesn't think the state should have ever closed it in the first place because of the loss of hundreds of jobs.

"We're going to have people that a lot of people are afraid of, and with all that's going on in the world, and stuff like that, people are gun shy, they're running scared right now," he said.

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KDKA-TV reached out to HIRA Education Services and got no response.

The state senator and state representative representing Shenango Township say they're also waiting for answers regarding the sale.

There's been no explanation of the sale either from the Governor's office, or the Pennsylvania Office of General Services. Neither returned KDKA's calls Tuesday evening.

Shenango Township supervisors are holding their regular monthly meeting this Thursday. Critics of the YDC sale are hoping for a large turnout to send a strong message to Harrisburg.

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