The former Keelong Juvenile Justice Centre site has been transformed into a youth centre that will provide hope and opportunity to the troubled teenagers it once locked away.
The new Cordeaux Heights school and residential centre run by Father Chris Riley's Youth Off the Streets organisation bears no resemblance to the dark grey, fenced-off building it once was.
Barbed wire and barred windows were replaced by colourful, painted classrooms and motivational signs urging students to display pride, exhilaration and perseverance in their work.
The centre was due to be opened by former Regional Australia minister Simon Crean, however Cunningham MP Sharon Bird stepped in at the last minute after Mr Crean was sacked for disloyalty.
At yesterday's opening, Father Riley said the centre would bring about positive change for disadvantaged, homeless or abused youths in the Illawarra community.
The centre will operate two residential services - one for young Aboriginal men and another to rehabilitate young first-time crime offenders - as well as a small school, Craig Davis College, for students who don't fit within the mainstream school system.
There are already eight students enrolled at the school, with plans to expand it to house about 50 or 60 students when further funding becomes available.
Fr Riley said the centre would help to keep at-risk youth out of jail.
"The biggest indicator of a kid going in and out of jail for the rest of their lives is putting them there in the first place," he said.
"If a 12-year-old does a simple crime and is arrested, they come in here rather than going into juvenile detention.
"So we're trying to stop kids from going into that system."
The centre was funded by the federal government's Regional Development Australia Fund.