Future of Coon Rapids teen center remains uncertain

No decision has yet been made by the Coon Rapids City Council on whether The Element Teen Center in Coon Rapids will reopen.

The Element Teen Center has operated out of the city of Coon Rapids’ Riverwind building for 11 years, but whether it will reopen after its late summer hiatus has not been determined.

The Element Teen Center has operated out of the city of Coon Rapids’ Riverwind building for 11 years, but whether it will reopen after its late summer hiatus has not been determined.

Anoka-Hennepin District Community Education, which has operated the teen center since it opened at the city’s Riverwind Community Center in 2002, closed it down Aug. 22 for lack of funding.

Over the years the teen center, which was created through a joint powers agreement between the city, Anoka County and the school district. has typically closed in late August, then reopened in mid-September after the start of the new school year.

But a major source of funding for the teen center went away in December 2012 with the dissolving of the Coon Rapids Youth First organization, which had received an annual $7,500 grant from Anoka County.

That money was passed on to Anoka-Hennepin District 11 Community Education for the teen center operations and was supplemented by $5,000 which the city council placed in its annual budget to be given to the community education department to help it run the teen center.

The city also maintains the Riverwind building.

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.

“The money has run out,” she said. “We won’t be continuing the teen center beyond its summer session.”

Faced with the loss of the teen center, a group of teens, a parent, volunteers and staff members spoke at the open mik session of the city council’s Aug. 20 meeting pleading with the council to keep the teen center open.

Mayor Tim Howe told the teen center delegation that the city had been “blindsided” by the community education’s decision to shut down the teen center, but it would talk about the issue during the council’s 2014 budget discussions.

The council had a work session on the 2014 budget and tax levy Aug. 21 and did discuss the future of the teen center.

No action was taken, but there was sentiment among councilmembers to look further into reopening the teen center and they wanted to meet with the school district on the topic, according to City Manager Steve Gatlin.

There is no money allocated in the 2013 budget for the teen center operations over and above the $5,000 that was sent to community education, nor is there presently any money in the 2014 budget to pay for the teen center, Gatlin said.

But councilmembers did talk about moving a portion of the $117,611 that has been set aside in the proposed 2014 budget for District 11 community school and summer recreation programs in the city to fund the teen center operation, he said.

At the same time, the council asked staff to check the structural integrity of the Riverwind building and its electrical, mechanical and plumbing systems to ensure that they are safe and functional, Gatlin said.

Teen Alex Rasmussen told the council during the Aug. 20 open mik session that the teen center provided a “great community service” and had a lot of activities for teens.

“If I did not have the teen center to go to, I would be playing video games,” he said. “It’s awesome and I would hate to see it closed.”

Keauna Halvorsen said it does not matter who you are or where you come from at the teen center. “There are no cliques like there are at school,” she said.

“When I first came to Coon Rapids, I had no friends, did not play sports and did not join clubs.”

But Halvorsen said she saw a flyer at school about the teen center and went to see what it was like; she has been a regular there since.

“It is where I want to go,” she said. “It has given me more confidence in myself.”

Linsey Dosh has been going to the teen center since 2006, even when her family moved to Anoka.

The Element Teen Center is the only place of its type in the area and she has become involved in community activities put on by the teen center, Dosh said.

“I am so happy to be part of it and I hope it stays open,” she said.

Kalli Fries started going to the teen center when she was 13 years old and at nearly 22 years old, she is still involved as a volunteer.

“I love every minute of it,” Fries said. “It has been a great volunteer experience and a huge benefit for college and job applications.”

“It is a safe place for teens and it is important the teen center stays open so kids have a place to go.”

The teens that are at the center have “a sense of connection to staff” because there is not a huge age gap and it is a really good place to meet friends, according to Fries.

“It is a place where I can stay involved and be part of the community,” Fries said.

Parent Diane Dosh said since her move to Anoka, she has continued to drive her daughter and son to the teen center. “It has been a very important part of my life and theirs,” she said.

Dosh described the teen center as “responsible and respectful.”

Chelly (Leibel) Iverson has been involved at the teen center since it opened and met her now-husband there, she told the council.

She began going to the center as a teen and now works there as a staff member, Iverson said.

It is important that the teen center remain open and staff and teens are willing to work with the city to prevent it from closing, she said.

Kelli Neid, teen center supervisor, asked the council about rumors that the city was going to tear down the Riverwind building and if that was the case, she hoped the council would find a new location to run the teen center.

“We are more than willing to help to keep it open,” Neid said. “We need our own place.”

According to Gatlin, the council has no plans to tear down the Riverwind building.

The teen center was open this summer from 3-6 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays and 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.

According to Neid, 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.

The teen center has hosted special events, including an annual Nite to Unite party the first Tuesday evening in August in conjunction with the citywide celebration.

The teen center has operated with 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, she said.

While the teen center has been open to sixth- through 12th-graders, more middle than high school students have come to The Element, she said.

There has been 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 has been 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 peter.bodley@ecm-inc.com

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