May 30, 2023

Granite Ridge owners, North East residents to discuss housing migrants

A number of audience members accused Ehrenfeld and Granite Ridge officials of prematurely agreeing to the intake facility idea without understanding the impacts to the North East community. One audience member accused them of exploiting migrant children as a way to acquire federal tax dollars to improve their property while reducing the property values of the community.

"You're going to ruin our town," she said.

Ehrenfeld said intake facility is "not a forgone conclusion," and still in "exploration stage."

Berkon said square footage of Granite Ridge facility still needs to be evaluated to determine how many children could possibly be housed there.

A raucous crowd erupted in applause after North East resident Jennifer Beardsley said a perimeter fence would not be able to contain a six-foot-tall teenager and that Granite Ridge officials hadn't properly thought through their security measures.

"Shame on you," she screamed at Granite Ridge officials.

The crowd also applauded after an audience member commented that migrant children are "Illegal immigrants" who should be "deported" and that it's "not the job of U.S. citizens" to sponsor their programs.

Another audience member questioned why guards would not be armed, insisting migrant children who have traveled a great distance to the U.S.-Mexico border could potentially get through the perimeter fence and pose a threat to her children and grandchildren.

Ehrenfeld Companies President Jonathan Ehrenfeld said zoning matters have yet to be resolved, but added "We don't plan on circumventing zoning."

Berkon official says a potential intake facility at Granite Ridge would be a "fully contained operation." Migrant children would remain on campus and not participate in local schools. Services at the facility would include schooling, physical education, religious services, medical evaluations and case management.

Berkon said the potential intake facility could have children from 0-17 years old.

Berkon said a perimeter fence would be erected around the main part of campus. Additional security would include access control points on campus with unarmed security personnel and video surveillance around the perimeter.

Children would be supervised 24 hours, with one adult for eight children, Berkon said.

Berkon said the fence would not be barbed wire, saying it would be a closed mesh fence that can't be climbed. "Our goal would be to make it aesthetically pleasing."

Culmen International CEO Dan Berkon says there is no contract yet for an intake facility at Granite Ridge and that campus remains an option.

A standing-room only crowd of more than 200 people have already filed into the former Ridge Library at the Granite Ridge campus Thursday evening to discuss the future plans of the facility. Erie County Executive Brenton Davis opened the meeting, thanked the crowd for attending and advised everyone to remain civil. Granite Ridge official Bill Unger initially told the news media the meeting was not public and no video recordings were allowed. The Erie Times-News challenged this and informed Unger that multiple North East officials were present and that the meeting should be made public.

Unaccompanied migrant children from the United States and Mexico border could be housed on the historic campus of a former seminary and satellite college in the heart of North East.

Ehrenfeld Cos. purchased the 70-acre satellite campus of Mercyhurst University in 2022 for $4.5 million. A meeting is set for May 11 with Granite Ridge officials and the North East community to answer questions and concerns.

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