New Boys & Girls Club teen center offers many spaces, activities for local students

photo by: Dylan Lysen

Students wait in line to enter the Don and Beverly Gardner Center for Great Futures on Tuesday, Aug. 21, 2018. The new facility opened Aug. 17, 2018.

With the sun shining through the large windows of the new Boys & Girls Club of Lawrence teen center in the southeast part of town, students were recently jumping off the bus and forming a long line to hurry into the building.

The new 50,000-square-foot facility — officially the Don and Beverly Gardner Center for Great Futures — features an indoor gym, performance stage, recording studio, several lounge areas and classrooms for middle school and high school students to enjoy after school.

“It’s quite an upgrade,” said Alissa Bauer, communications director for the nonprofit club.

The facility opened Aug. 17, welcoming about 130 students per day, which is twice as many students the previous 6,000-square-foot facility could fit. Colby Wilson, CEO of the local organization, said the facility can fit up to 250 students.

Monica Dittmer, executive director for the facility, said the many different features allow the students to make the decision for themselves on what they do after school.

“If you’ve ever met a middle school or high school student, you know you can’t make them do anything,” Dittmer said. “It all has to be on their own accord.”

One of the most popular spaces in the new facility is the indoor gym. The gym features several basketball hoops to play on. The new court is considered a significant upgrade to the former facility’s basketball court, which was outdoors.

Inside the gym, a steel beam holding one of the main hoops features about 20 signatures of some of the longest attending Boys & Girls Club members, who are dubbed “founders” of the facility.

photo by: Dylan Lysen

Monica Dittmer, executive director for the Boys and Girls Club of Lawrence teen center, shows off a performance stage in the facility.

For the children with performance and media aspirations, the facility includes a stage and recording studio.

Dittmer said the stage is used for many different activities, including a recent rap battle among the students. The stage also features a projection screen on the wall, which some students have used for video game playing on a bigger screen.

“They just love it,” she said of the area.

Right next to the stage are two studio recording booths. One of the booths features a painted wall to serve as a green screen for video recording and the other booth is used for audio recording and “laying down their tracks,” as Dittmer put it.

photo by: Dylan Lysen

The makerspace of the teen center allows students to collaborate on creations.

For the creatives who like to work with their hands, the facility features a large makerspace. A makerspace is a workshop where the children can build, create and collaborate on many different things.

Some cool gadgets the members will be able to use in the makerspace are 3D printers and robotics. The makerspace also features garage doors that allow the users to take their work outdoors.

photo by: Dylan Lysen

The Boys and Girls Club of Lawrence and the Lawrence College and Career Center share a kitchen, which is used for educational purposes for both organizations.

The Boys & Girls club partnership with the Lawrence College and Career Center allowed the two organizations to collaborate on the facility’s features, including an industrial kitchen.

During the school day, the College and Career Center uses it for culinary education. The Boys & Girls club then uses the kitchen for making food for the members after school, and the local 4-H program and Just Food, the local food pantry nonprofit, come in to teach club members about healthy eating and cooking.

Next to the kitchen, the students can eat and hang out in a common area known as The Yard.

photo by: Dylan Lysen

A small classroom with a couch is used for smaller group meetings, such as clubs focused on leadership and community service.

Attached to The Yard through a large garage door is a small classroom, featuring a blue sectional couch and television screen, which is used for character and leadership classes.

The room allows smaller groups and clubs to get together, such as the Torch Club, which focuses on community service, and the Keystone Club, which focuses on character, citizenship, academic success and career readiness.

On the upper level of the facility, students can relax and have fun in the game room by playing air hockey and foosball, or they can use the many desktop computers.

The upper level also features several classrooms for use. Dittmer said the larger classroom is the main space that is open at all times. It will have dedicated staff to assist students with school work throughout the school year.

photo by: Dylan Lysen

An upper-level lounge area designated for high school students allows the older members to spend some time amongst themselves.

The upper level also includes a lounge area dedicated to high school students. While most of the teen center is available to both middle school and high school students, there’s still a significant age difference between the oldest and youngest members. Bauer said the high school lounge area will allow the older members to have some space away from the younger members if they so choose.

With so many different spaces available, students can find many ways to spend their time after school.

Dittmer said the new facility is unique because the facility echoes with music, voices and laughter when students begin participating in activities.

“It’s amazing because its like the building has a heartbeat now,” she said. “The entire building comes alive and the energy level comes up. The kids are so excited to be in a place like this that is their own.”

The facility features many windows, allowing natural light to fill the rooms and hallways. Wilson said details like the windows are important for the atmosphere of the facility.

“The old teen center was dark and not that aspirational,” he said. “Space is important, especially when it comes to kids thinking about their future and what they can be. This is much more in line with what these kids need and deserve.”

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