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Auburn leaders look into possibility of youth-teen center

City leaders got a look at the baby stage of an alternative to the now-shelved community center project in Les Gove Park at a special meeting of the Auburn City Council Monday evening at Auburn City Hall.

Daryl Faber, director of Auburn Parks, Arts and Recreation, and Kevin Snyder, Community Development and Public Works director, presented the draft concept of a project that calls for the conversion of the existing Parks, Arts and Rec administrative building on the north end of the park into a youth-teen center, and the concurrent development of a separate, two-story community center next to it.

The youth-teen center would tie in to the recently-built gymnasium just west of it.

The two men sketched preliminary plans for the teen-youth center, to include:

• dedicated hang-out space for kids;

• a computer lab for homework help, SAT prep, resumé and job assistance, college and trade school applications, training and more;

• shared game space;

• a fitness room;

• office space for teen staff;

• an updating and remodeling of the kitchen to create a teaching kitchen for youth and teen programs, which would also serve the community center as a commercial kitchen option.

The community center draft calls for:

• a large, three-bay community room to accommodate events for about 300 people, addressing the demand for meeting and banquet space. Along with physical support spaces such as storage and a warming kitchen, the commercial kitchen that is already there would be available for the community center and the youth-teen center;

• a lobby lounge to be the main reception area for the community center and the youth-teen center. During private center rentals, a separate entrance would provide access to the center. This area would be designed to serve all populations for social gatherings, informal activities, people waiting for transportation and registering for classes, activities and rentals;

• an outdoor patio area into the park from the multi-purpose rooms;

• two multi-use classrooms on the second floor available for rental and accommodating up to 30 people at a time for recreation, education and enrichment classes, birthday parties and senior classes;

• office space for Parks, Arts and Recreation staff on the second floor, and offices in the youth/teen center for youth and teens.

Council members listened and later gave City staff permission to proceed with the planning process.

"I am pleased to see us move forward with a youth and teen center," said Councilman John Holman, noting that there are plenty of grants available for such concerns as anti-gang presentations. "There's money out there not only for construction but for maintenance and operation."

Councilwoman Largo Wales said she particularly liked the teen center idea. She said she hoped the City would work with Communities and Schools of Auburn to provide after-school activities.

Last March, the City Council decided, given that the unknown costs of operating and maintaining the center as it was then designed had the potential to push it over budget, that for the foreseeable future the City would not build it.

After that vote, Mayor Nancy Backus and City staff met often to talk about other ways to use a $3 million state appropriation, which was to have helped the City pay for construction of the $10 million-plus community center. As of today, the money must be committed to the project by June 30, 2015, or the state takes it back. The City plans, however, to ask state Sen. Joe Fain, R-Auburn, to ask the state legislature to grant it an extension of the timeline.

Faber said that from the mayor-staff discussions mentioned above, the alternative took shape, which, with a few compromises, could be built within the maximum $9 million budget. One of those compromises, he said, would be to reduce the size of the center. That is, where the original center had been designed called for space to accommodate 450 people, the new design would accommodate perhaps 100 to 150 fewer people. The exact number will remain unknown, however, until planning for the project is more advanced.

Faber said City leaders decided to move the community center from the parcel that had been set aside for it on the site of the old Auburn YMCA to the park's north end because they wanted to see "more things" for youth and teens.

"We also heard from seniors that they would like to see a fitness component there after seeing one at other senior centers," Faber said. "And we wanted all the buildings to receive some energy from each other — teens, seniors, and the regular community at the north end of the park, sharing resources."

Faber noted that the present Parks, Arts and Recreation building was formerly a senior center, and that it is sturdy, with much to offer.

"It has great bones, a commercial kitchen, dividable space for a computer lab. It can be a place for youth to hang out because there's no place like that in Auburn," Faber said.

The plan takes advantage of parking that already exists on the north end of the park, but additional parking, perhaps in the park's north meadow, would need to be designed and studied.

One benefit of the concept as it now stands, Faber said, would be that the large area once occupied by ACAP and the YMCA, which was to have served as parking for the now-defunct center, may "now be master-planned for other parks and recreation, open-space needs."

That space, and ideas for the Herr properties the City acquired July 7 on the campus' south end, are to be part of a package that comes before council during the 2015 budget process.

As far as the timelines for construction are concerned, Snyder laid out a schedule he called, "aggressive, but doable."

"It will have constant momentum around it," Snyder said. "Things would be happening frequently throughout the year if this were to go forward, with a goal of getting us out to construction by September of 2015 and opening by Kids Day of 2016."

Because the project would affect the neighborhoods that abut that particular area, Snyder said, the City plans to "spend some time with the community" to ensure that City officials are listening to their concerns.

"We are also going to engage our conduits to youth with the Junior City Council and the Youth Council," Snyder said. "There would also be strategic check-ins with the City Council. One of the necessary differences in this approach is that (because of the deadline on the appropriation) we do need to move rather quickly. So what we are proposing are strategic check-ins with the City Council at 30-percent design drawings, 60-percent design drawings, and then a final check-in with Council, basically, when the design drawings are done and ready to be submitted for permit review."

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