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Archive for Saturday, October 26, 1996

S POPULARITY HAS DECLINED

October 26, 1996

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The Lawrence Teen Center is experiencing some growing pains as it enters its third year.

It was Lawrence High homecoming Friday and the sun was out. The town was buzzing.

Inside the Lawrence Teen Center, all was quiet. Twenty minutes earlier, a group of girls played pool.

"It's really hit or miss," center director Tim Laurent said.

Lately, it's been more miss.

"It's hard," Laurent said. "I think teen-agers gravitate toward where there's no adult supervision. The only thing we can do to combat that is to keep them involved with the (activity) decisions."

When it opened in August 1994, the city-sponsored Teen Center, 1141 Mass., raced out of the gates. By year's end, an estimated 70 teens were using the facility every day. That number jumped into triple digits on weekends or when the center held dances.

Last fall the center closed to remodel and reevaluate. When it reopened in December 1995, attendance plummeted.

"Word of mouth had spread around Lawrence that this was a gang hangout, which simply wasn't true," Laurent said. "But that's how it was perceived."

There was talk of adding police patrols in the area. New outdoor lights were installed. A photo identification card system was discussed. There were no fights or confrontations, but teen-agers from out of town were reportedly causing some of the concern.

"It wasn't a situation where we were having problems," Laurent said. "We thought we were heading for some problems.

"The reason we opened the teen center was to draw some of the trouble kids off of Massachusetts. When it actually happened, I think people got a little anxious."

This summer, two or three days could pass without a youth visiting the center. The July opening of the Lawrence Aquatic Center a few blocks away provided a popular summer venue for local youth.

Since school started, between five and 10 teens a day stop by the center.

City commissioner Jo Andersen, who spearheaded the project for the city, said that attendance is only one factor in gauging the center's success.

"An equally important factor is that it gives notice that the city really does care about (teen-agers') welfare ... that they are cherished members of the community," Andersen said.

Laurent and five part-time staff members oversee the center, which occupies the southern half of the South Park recreation building. A Pop-a-Shot machine, pool table (no quarters necessary), a ping-pong table, Foosball and even a comfy television room equip the center. Radio speakers are tucked in the ceiling corners.

The cost to the city: up to $42,000 is allowed for the center in the 1996 budget, and again in 1997.

It is open from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday, from 3 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Friday, and from 1 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Saturday. The center is closed on Sunday.

Laurent said part of the problem has been word of mouth.

Andrea Chikezie, a Lawrence High senior and co-president of the Mayor's Youth Advisory Council, agreed. The council was formed to get ideas like the teen center off the ground.

The location of the center has made it convenient for Central Junior High students to use after school. About 90 percent of those who use the center are Central Junior High students, Laurent said. During one council meeting, students from South, Southwest and West junior highs were asked why they chose not to come to the center.

"They said, 'Where is it?'" Chikezie said. "We said, 'You're standing in it.'"

Matt Hochstetler, LHS senior, said announcements and fliers have not done as much as the council hoped.

"It's really an amazing place -- I think a lot of youth don't know about it," Hochstetler said. "If they did, more youth would come to it."

Laurent said the center will continue to host dances, organize trips and workshops, and generate interest.

But it may not be easy.

"Some people might still think we're closed," Laurent said.

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