Coon Rapids teen center to reopen Tuesday

The Element Teen Center in Coon Rapids will reopen Tuesday, Oct. 1.

The Element Teen Center will reopen Oct. 1.
The Element Teen Center will reopen Oct. 1.

The decision came following a meeting Sept. 19 between staff from the city of Coon Rapids and Anoka-Hennepin School District 11 Community Education.

The community education department, 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.

A delegation of teen center users, staff and supporters appeared at the open mic of the Coon Rapids City Council meeting Aug. 20 to ask for the council’s help in reopening the teen center.

The next evening the council talked about the future of the teen center at a 2014 budget work session, then Mayor Tim Howe said at the Sept. 3 council meeting that he wanted to find a way to get the teen center back open as quickly as possible.

That prompted city staff to set up the meeting with the community education department to discuss the teen center’s future.

At the council’s Sept. 17 meeting open mic session, three other residents spoke in favor of re-opening the teen center.

Under the plan agreed to by city and community education staff, the teen center will remain open until Dec. 20 – at least for now.

The city will pay the cost of the teen center and the community education department will operate the teen center with the same staff and hours as before, according to City Manager Steve Gatlin.

The cost is $3,250 for staffing and the council will determine where that money will come from the city budget at its meeting Oct. 1, Gatlin said.

The city owns and maintains the Rivervwind building.

The teen center hours will be Tuesday and Thursday evenings from 4:30-7:30 p.m. and Friday evenings from 6-9 p.m.

In the meantime, city and community education staff will talk about future staffing, program options and budget needs for the teen center with final decisions coming before the end of the year.

According to Heather Peters, Anoka-Hennepin Community Education Communications Coordinator, another meeting between staff from the city and community education has been scheduled for late October.

The hope is at that time, a plan will be agreed for either the teen center to continue in its present form or with some other programming provided for teens served by the center, Peters said.

“The idea is to determine what is feasible for the future,” she said.

Currently, the city’s 2014 budget, which was given preliminary approval by the council Sept. 3, has no money allocated for the teen center in 2014, but final action by the council on the budget for next year won’t take place until early December.

The teen center was created through a joint powers agreement between the city, Anoka County and the school district.

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 because of a decline in membership and participation.

Coon Rapids Youth First had received an annual $7,500 grant from Anoka County and passed it on to Anoka-Hennepin District 11 Community Education for the teen center operations.

The demise of Coon Rapids Youth First meant no grant from the county.

The grant was supplemented by $5,000 which the council placed in its annual budget to be given to the community education department to help it run the teen center.

In addition, according to Sandra Bengtson, community education program supervisor, the community education department had 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.

According to Kelli Neid, who was the teen center supervisor and will continue in that role with the reopening of the teen center, during the school year, the number of kids at the teen center ranged from 20 to 35.

She described the teen center as a safe place for students to get together, play games, watch movies and take part in community events under the guidance of trained staff.

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

The teen center operated with four part-time staff members, two of whom were at the center each day or evening it was open, who worked 10 1/2 hours a week, Neid said.

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

There was 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 was food and beverages available at a cafe in the teen center for a small fee.

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

Peter Bodley is at
[email protected]