MAYOR NUTTER and a host of city officials cut the ribbon on the new $110 million Juvenile Justice Services Center in West Philly Thursday, capping off a decadelong effort to close and replace the troubled Youth Study Center.

The polished new building, with its "healing garden," quad-like athletics field, smart boards and other amenities, is "just like a college campus," said Marq Temple, executive director of the center.

"Our kids deserve the best," an emotional Temple said. "You can't get them on the right track by putting them in some run-down place."

The detention center, at 48th Street and Haverford Avenue, will primarily house young people ages 13 to 20 who have been charged with a serious juvenile offense and are awaiting trial. It's designed for 150 residents and will begin taking kids in late January or February.

A usual detention stay is one to 12 days, Temple said, but some will be there for up to about 120 days if their cases drag on.

A handful of protesters chanted outside the ribbon-cutting ceremony and held signs reading, "Schools not jails."

"The city's priorities are horrifying," said Tim Dunn, 52, who lives in West Philly. "Millions of dollars are being cut from schools, and they're celebrating a youth prison."

Nutter emphasized that the detention center will have educational services managed by the Philadelphia School District.

"Everybody wants service for different constituencies; they just don't want it anywhere near them," Nutter said. "These are our children."

For years, the Youth Study Center was held at a run-down and sometimes overcrowded facility where the new Barnes Foundation building now sits on the Ben Franklin Parkway.

The center moved temporarily to the Eastern Pennsylvania Psychiatric Institute building in East Falls four years ago, and conditions soon became "a nightmare," Temple said.

Debate had raged over where to build the new facility, with neighbors in many pockets of the city fearing the local impact of a juvenile facility. But some of those activists had a change of heart over the years and were present Thursday to celebrate the new building.

On Twitter: @SeanWalshDN