Inside the Boys & Girls Club’s new teen center; facility set to open in August

photo by: Joanna Hlavacek

The Boys and Girls Club of Lawrence will open its new teen center in August after more than two years of planning and fundraising. In this photo, Boys and Girls Club executive director Colby Wilson, left, points out some of the building's features to Free State High School senior Ruth Gathunguri, a Boys and Girls Club staffer and 2018 Boys and Girls Club Kansas Youth of the Year, on June 19, 2018.

More than two years after fundraising and planning began, the Boys & Girls Club’s $5 million teen center is finally beginning to take shape.

Leaders of the organization’s Lawrence branch are hoping to boost enrollment among older kids with the opening of the new facility, officially the Don and Beverly Gardner Center for Great Futures, in August. It will be located adjacent to the Lawrence school district’s College and Career Center at 2910 Haskell Ave.

Per capita, Lawrence has one of the largest Boys & Girls Club chapters in the nation, with 63 percent of the school district’s elementary students enrolled as members as of August 2017. But membership of middle school and high school students is lagging, and the club’s existing teen center, at 1520 Haskell Ave., is already pushing capacity.

“So, we have to have a different approach once they get into their teen years, and provide cool, fun spaces that are really attractive,” said Colby Wilson, executive director of the Boys & Girls Club of Lawrence.

To compete against the lure of “the couch and the video games at home,” Wilson said, the Boys & Girls Club’s new teen center will need to deliver hands-on, engaging educational opportunities that allow students to explore a variety of career interests — and have a little fun in the process.

Here’s an early look at the new Center for Great Futures from the Journal-World’s tour on Tuesday:

Makerspace and technology center

photo by: Joanna Hlavacek

Crews are nearing completing on the Boys and Girls Club’s new Don and Beverly Gardner Center for Great Futures, which includes a new makerspace and technology center. The makerspace, pictured here Tuesday, June 19, 2018, will house creative pursuits ranging from arts and crafts to design-build projects.

As part of the Boys & Girls Club’s continued partnership with the Lawrence school district, the new facility and the district’s existing Lawrence College and Career Center will become one shared-used complex. Students and club members will have access to both buildings during the school year, with the teen center remaining open after school and over the summer.

Among the shared amenities are the teen center’s makerspace and adjacent audio and video production rooms. Wilson says the facility improves on similar spaces at the Lawrence College and Career Center. The teen center, for example, will provide a garage for the district’s design-build students to easily transport large, heavy equipment and projects in and out of the facility, while video production students will now have access to a closed-off studio free of noise pollution.

photo by: Joanna Hlavacek

Plans for the Boys and Girls Club’s new Don and Beverly Gardner Center for Great Futures include a large kitchen for both teaching and culinary use. Staff will use the kitchen, pictured here on June 19, 2018, to prepare and serve dinner every day to 250 kids.

“I definitely think the middle school kids who are starting in band or orchestra will love this,” says Ruth Gathunguri, a rising senior at Free State High School and the Boys & Girls Club’s 2018 Kansas Youth of the Year.

The performing arts space will feature a portable stage and plug-ins for musical instruments, allowing students to put on their own concerts, plays and dance performances. Students interested in filmmaking and broadcast journalism will have access to high-tech camera and editing equipment and a green screen.

Teaching kitchen

One of the biggest draws at the new center, Wilson says, will likely be its state-of-the-art commercial and teaching kitchen. Every night, Boys & Girls Club staffers — with the help of students — will prepare dinner for 250 kids in the new space.

“We will have a full-time kitchen manager who will do the ordering and manage some of the grants that we get for that program, but that person’s going to need some help to prepare and serve 250 meals,” Wilson says. “So, we see that being part of our youth development program, volunteer program.”

There’s also an idea to create rooftop gardens at the center, allowing kids to grow some of the food to be used in the kitchen.

Another, smaller kitchen, located just a few steps outside the larger commercial and teaching space, could be converted into a coffee bar or snack shack, Wilson says.

High schoolers’ lounge

“This is another space that I think Ruth and her friends are really going to be excited about,” Wilson says, walking up the stairs to a special annex dedicated to older teens.

In order to access the upstairs space, “you have to be in high school,” Wilson says.

The lounge area will feature tables and chairs for homework and reading, a games area and a separate patio with views of the University of Kansas campus. Wilson envisions a flexible space filled with cool, comfy furniture and plenty of room for students to work and socialize.

“When we talked to our teens, (the feedback was), ‘Don’t make it look like school. We want something that’s cool and a place that’s ours, a place to belong that feels like the Boys & Girls Club,'” Wilson says.

The new center will also feature an 8,000-square-foot gymnasium for basketball and other physical activities, administrative offices for Boys & Girls Club employees, and multipurpose outdoor areas that could be used as meeting areas, classrooms or an amphitheater for staging performances.

The Center for Great Futures will open to students on Aug. 10. A ribbon-cutting ceremony is scheduled for Sept. 6.

photo by: Joanna Hlavacek

A main feature of the Boys and Girls Club’s new Don and Beverly Gardner Center for Great Futures is the 8,000-square-foot gymnasium, pictured here on Tuesday, June 19, 2018.

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