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Health Minister Jerome Kennedy says a new residential treatment centre for youth with significant mental health problems will be built in Paradise. ((CBC))

The Newfoundland and Labrador government intends to build a treatment centre for youth with serious mental illness just outside St. John's.

The centre, which was promised in the 2009 budget, is still in the planning stage, but the government would build it on the site of an elementary school in Paradise that closed almost four years ago because of mould.

"Personally, I would like to move it much quicker," Health Minister Jerome Kennedy told CBC News.

The government is planning a similar centre in Grand Falls-Windsor for youth with addictions.

Kennedy said it is taking time to prepare both sites.

"If you're going to do this, you gotta do it right," he said.

One of the wrinkles in the process has been difficulties with zoning, Kennedy said.

In Paradise, demolition of the old Paradise Elementary complex will begin soon, with construction to follow on the new mental health centre.

The centre should open in late 2011 or early 2012, Kennedy said. A dozen people will be treated at the site.

Dr. John Lyons, who chairs the child and youth mental health program at the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario, said the Newfoundland and Labrador government is proceeding appropriately with the two centres.

"I think it's a sound process," Lyons said.

"I've talked to the people who are designing the program and I think they're well aware of these complexities."

Lyons cautioned, though, that a residential treatment program is not appropriate for some patients.

"What you want to do is make your decisions carefully about which young people you send to these programs and just make sure you're sending those who'll benefit, and not those that will likely be harmed," Lyons told CBC News last week.

The provincial government vowed to improve its programming for seriously ill children and youth in 2008, after the psychiatric unit at the Janeway Child Health Centre in St. John's had to close temporarily because of staffing shortages. One teenager was put in handcuffs and transferred to the Waterford Hospital, the province's only psychiatric hospital.

A report released earlier this year recommended an overhaul of that unit.