Coon Rapids teen center set to close Aug. 22

The Element Teen Center in Coon Rapids will close its doors for good Aug. 22 unless a new source of funding is found.

The teen center, which is located in the city of Coon Rapids’ Riverwind Community Building on Northdale Boulevard, celebrated its 10th anniversary a year ago.

It was created through a joint powers agreement between the city, Anoka County and the Anoka-Hennepin School District.

But a major source of funding for the teen center went away when in December 2012 when the Coon Rapids Youth First organization was dissolved.

Coon Rapids Youth First had received an annual $7,500 grant from Anoka County, which was passed on to Anoka-Hennepin District 11 Community Education, which has operated the teen center, while the city maintains the building.

In addition, the city has earmarked $5,000 in its annual budget for the community education department specifically to help it run the teen center.

According to Sandra Bengtson, community education program adviser, the community education department has been subsidizing the teen center to the tune of $2,000 to $3,000 each year as well as providing in-kind community education staff time and equipment.

When Coon Rapids Youth First was dissolved, that meant the end of the county grant, Bengtson said.

“The money has run out,” she said.

“We won’t be continuing the teen center beyond its summer session.”

The teen center normally closes in late August following its summer session, then reopens in mid September once kids are back in school.

But Coon Rapids City Councilmember Denise Klint does not want the teen center to close.

Klint, who was a driving force behind the establishment of The Element Teen Center in 2002, alerted her fellow councilmembers at the end of the July 16 council meeting to the community education department’s decision to close the teen center effective Aug. 22.

She asked that the council schedule a work session in August to consider funding sources to keep the teen center operating.

The other councilmembers were receptive to discussing the future of the teen center at a work session.

“It is important that the teen center stays open,” Klint said.

When she was a teacher at Crossroads Alternative High School, Coon Rapids, she became strong advocate in the effort to open the teen center because she saw a need for teens to have a place to go and there was nowhere in Coon Rapids at that time, she said.

The teen center, which serves both middle and high school students, is located close to both Coon Rapids High School and Coon Rapids Middle School, Klint said.

Klint described the decision by the community education department to shut down the teen center as “so frustrating.”

Klint has a funding solution to keep the teen center operating, she said.

According to Klint, the city’s $5,000 contribution would continue and the rest of the money needed to keep it open, around $9,500, should be taken from the city’s annual allocation to the District 11 Community Education Department for programming in the city.

That allocation was $112,535 in 2013 and the school district is asking for more for 2014, Klint said.

In addition, Klint, who serves on the District 11 Community Education Advisory Council as the city’s representative, believes that Coon Rapids is one of only two cities that contributes funding to the community education department for programming, she said.

With the city operating the teen center, Klint would push for more promotion and visibility of its programs and possibly create a Coon Rapids Youth Commission to assist in that, she said.

According to Kelli Neid, teen center supervisor, the teen center is open this summer from 3-6 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.

In the school year, it has been open Tuesdays and Thursdays from 3:30-7:30 p.m. and Fridays from 6-9 p.m., Neid said.

During the school year, the number of kids at the teen center ranges from 20 to 35, but it drops off to 10 to 15 during the summer, she said.

The teen center also hosts some special events, including an annual Nite to Unite party the first Tuesday evening in August in conjunction with the citywide celebration. This year’s event is Tuesday, Aug. 6.

The teen center has four part-time staff members, two of whom are at the center each day or evening it is open, who work 10 1/2 hours a week, Neid said.

The news that the community education department is planning to close the teen center Aug. 22 did not come as a surprise to Neid since the funding from the county was lost, she said.

Indeed, in prior years, there has been talk of closing the teen center, according to Neid, a Coon Rapids High School graduate who has worked at the teen center for seven years.

While the teen center is open to sixth- through 12th-graders, more middle than high school students come to Riverwind, Neid said.

Neid hopes that a way can be found to keep the teen center open, she said.

“But it’s iffy,” Neil said.

When the Coon Rapids City Council marked the 10th anniversary of the Element Teen Center a year ago, Neid told the council that the center has provided a good environment for many teens, especially those with a bad home life.

“They can come here and get away from home and meet friends,” she said then.

“It’s really a home away from home.”

According to Bengtson, the community education department stands ready to work with the city if it wishes to keep the teen center open and continue the partnership with the community education department.

“The city will have to determine its priorities,” Bengtson said.

The teen center serves only a small groups of kids, she said.

There is no charge for teens to go to the teen center, which has Wii and PlayStation systems and games, board games, pool and foosball tables, a ping pong table, outdoor sporting equipment, movies and a skate park.

And there is a cafe available for a small fee.

The Coon Rapids Lions Club and the Warner’ Stellian store in Coon Rapids have donated appliances to the teen center in the past year.

Peter Bodley is at [email protected]