SHENANGO TOWNSHIP (KDKA) — The state has given final approval to the controversial sale of a former youth detention facility to a Muslim education association in Lawrence County.

The sale has raised questions and fears in Shenango, where public officials say little is known about the group and its intentions.

The state’s sale of the former New Castle Youth Development Center to a New Jersey education group has people on edge in Shenango. But township supervisor Frank Augustine says it’s not because of the group’s Muslim affiliation.

“This has nothing to do with race, religion,” Augustine said. “This is the economic viability of this community.”

The company, called Hira, is a consultant group whose stated mission is to help Muslim schools in the U.S. It bid $400,000 to purchase the 143-acre site with 13 buildings, but KDKA found that the company claims only one employee in an apartment in Newark, New Jersey, and has not reported income of more than $50,000 in each of the past three years.

In addition, the state of New Jersey has revoked Hira’s non-profit status for failing to submit required financial reports for two consecutive years.

Augustine says the group just doesn’t sound economically viable.

“It just doesn’t seem to make sense that somebody with that kind of income can expend $400,000 and then maintain the buildings and keep everything up,” he said.

For weeks, Hira did not return phone calls, but Thursday, they replied by email, stating its plan to operate an alternative reform center aimed at turning troubled youth around by community service, therapy and education.

The email, however, is light on specifics on just who would be placed there and how it would be funded, with Hira saying they would rely on grants from the government and foundations.

Hira will have five days to come up with an 8 percent deposit of $32,000 and a month to pay the balance of $400,000.

Meanwhile, the state senate has passed a resolution asking the governor to void the sale until more information has been forthcoming.

The Pennsylvania House is expected to vote on that resolution to void the sale next week, but whether that has an impact remains to be seen. Right now, residents are left with questions and concerns.

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