School district, Boys & Girls Club partnership influenced new teen center’s location, design

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.

The location, design and operation of the new $5 million teen center reflect a strong partnership between Lawrence school district and the Boys & Girls Club of Lawrence, officials with the district and youth organization say.

Colby Wilson, executive director of the Boys & Girls Club of Lawrence, said the basic partnership behind the teen center was forged through discussions between the Boys & Girls Club and the district, which started under former district superintendent Rick Doll. Those talks began with an earlier possible location for the planned new teen center next to the proposed new headquarters for the Lawrence Police Department, but they ended when city voters rejected in November 2014 a referendum to fund construction of the new law enforcement facility.

It was Doll’s proposal that the Boys & Girls Club build on land the district had set aside for expansion of the College and Career Center, 2910 Haskell Ave., Wilson said. In exchange for the property, the Boys & Girls Club would include spaces that complemented programming the district offered next door, he said. That proposal led to a partnership agreement that had the Boys & Girls Club transfer the title of the $5 million new facility — officially known as the Don and Beverly Gardner Center for Great Futures — to the district, which then leased it back at no cost to the nonprofit youth organization, he said.

“We were wondering why we didn’t think of the location earlier,” Wilson said. “It’s a win-win for everybody.”

The agreement eliminated land acquisition cost for the new teen center and allowed the Boys & Girls Club to build at a site with existing infrastructure, Wilson said.

Patrick Kelly, director of the College and Career Center, said the arrangement gave district students access to facilities it planned to add with future expansions at no cost to district taxpayers by establishing a shared-use campus of the two centers. District students will use the new learning facilities in the teen center during the day for coursework specific to the engineering, advanced culinary and advanced placement communications and marketing classes they are taking at the College and Career Center, Kelly said.

The engineering students will have access to the “makerspace” within the teen center, including a garage, that will allow them to move the design-build projects they now construct on the grounds inside during inclement weather, Kelly said. The teen center makerspace also has features, such as a sink to wash out paint brushes, that were overlooked when the College and Career Center was built, he said.

The teen center’s video and audio studios will provide students closed-off production space free of noise pollution, Kelly said. Journalism and marketing students will have access to high-tech camera and editing equipment and a green screen.

College and Career Center culinary students shouldn’t lack for food preparation space. The state-of-the-art commercial and teaching kitchen in the teen center complements one built in the College and Career Center last year, Kelly said.

Kelly and Wilson said they believe the partnership will pay off in increased enrollment at both centers and greater student success.

The teen center was built with the goal of registering more middle and high school students into Boys & Girls Club by offering them activities that appealed to their age groups, which wasn’t possible at the old teen center at 1520 Haskell Ave., Wilson said. The early returns are promising.

“Last year at this time, we had three or four high school students signed up,” he said. “We now have 15 to 20, but I think number will increase significantly when kids start seeing what we have available here.”

Wilson said the greater number of middle and high school students coming through the teen center’s doors will create other opportunities for the students.

“The basketball, soccer and other fun activities are the hook to get middle school and high school students interested in things like the culinary kitchen or the studios,” he said. “It’s a way of igniting a passion that could lead to a great career. Once you have that passion, you realize why school is so important.”

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School district, Boys & Girls Club partnership influenced new teen center’s location, design


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