The Coon Rapids City Council wants The Element Center to stay open beyond the end of this year.
But at a work session prior to the Oct. 1 regular council meeting, there was no council consensus on what form the program should take.
The teen center reopened Oct. 1 at the city-owned Riverwind Community Center on Northdale Boulevard after it had closed Aug. 22 when funds to operate it ran out.
The city and Anoka-Hennepin School District 11 Community Education reached agreement that the city would pay for the teen center operation with previous staff through Dec. 20.
In the meantime, discussions are taking place between the city and community education staff on the future staffing, programming options and budget needs.
At its Oct. 1 meeting the council approved $3,250 to keep the teen center open until Dec. 20 with the money coming from the general fund.
Hours are Tuesday and Thursday evenings from 4:30-7:30 p.m. and Fridays from 6-9 p.m.
The community education department has operated the teen center since it opened at Riverwind in 2002 through a joint powers agreement.
Most of the funding had come from an annual appropriation of $5,000 from the city council as well as an annual $7,500 grant from the Anoka County Board to Coon Rapids Youth First, which passed on the money to the community education department for the teen center. Community education also contributed some funding as well as staff time.
But in November 2012, Coon Rapids Youth First dissolved because of a decline in participation. Its remaining assets, some $11,000, were earmarked for the teen center.
The money ran out sooner than expected, according to Ryan Gunderson, Coon Rapids recreation coordinator who chaired Coon Rapids Youth First.
“As funding dwindled early this summer, city and community education staff were in communication regarding the budget,” said Heather Peters, Anoka-Hennepin Community Education communications coordinator.
Community education staff met with city staff July 2 to work out a plan for closing the teen center in August when remaining operational funding would be exhausted, she said.
Councilmember Denise Klint brought the impending closure of the teen center to the council’s attention in late July and a delegation of teen center users, staff and supporters appeared at the open mic of the council’s Aug. 20 meeting to ask for the council’s help in keeping the center open.
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 and community education staff to meet to find a way to get the teen center back open and the decision to reopen Oct. 1.
Meanwhile at the council’s Sept. 17 meeting open mic session, three other residents spoke in favor of re-opening the teen center.
They said that the teen center builds relationships, provides a community service, results in good role models, is close to schools and creates a safe place for teens to go.
According to Peters, 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.
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 and tax levy for next year won’t take place Dec. 3 following a public hearing.
At the work session Oct. 1, the council consensus was that the teen center budget should remain at the present figure, about $15,000.
There was no interest in increasing it to a number that some communities use, $50,000.
According to Howe, from what he had been told by a couple of those communities, that has not worked out very well.
But in funding the teen center in 2014, the council will have to find a source of money that does not involve increasing the tax levy from the preliminary levy approved in December.
One option discussed by the council Oct. 1 was to take the teen center funding from the city’s annual allocation to District 11 Community Education for community schools programming in the city, which amounts to $112,500.
According to City Manager Steve Gatlin, $78,000 of those dollars go to youth programs in the elementary and middle schools, $16,000 to teen programs in the schools and $18,500 for summer programs in the city.
Coon Rapids and Anoka are the only cities in the school district that provide funding to community education to enhance youth and teen programs in their communities, Gatlin said.
“Coon Rapids and Anoka both receive a higher level of program activity as a result of continuing our contribution,” he said.
For example, this past summer all but one or two of the community education activities took place in schools in Anoka and Coon Rapids, Gatlin said.
According to Gatlin, staff has also reviewed the condition of the Riverwind building, which dates back to the 1960s, and it will cost anywhere from $30,000 to $40,000 to bring it up to code and make some safety improvements.
That money could come from the city’s facilities construction fund, Gatlin said.
But while the council discussed the improvements at Riverwind, no decision was made.
During the council’s work session discussion, Klint said the kids that attend the teen center would not go to a similar program in the schools.
But she said the staff needed more direction to bring it to a higher level of use, for example by offering homework help.
According to Gunderson, the daily average of kids using the teen center is between 25 and 30, but over the course of the year, there will be anywhere from 70 to 85 different teens using the center.
But he said the size of the building limits the number of kids that can be there at any one time, nor is there any Wi-Fi connection available.
“This is a safe place where kids can go,” Howe said.
“They view the teen center as their own; that’s part of the charm.”
In fact, his preference would be to continue the teen center the way it is at the city level, Howe said.
But before making any final decision, the council wanted to wait and see what recommendations came from the current talks between the city and community education staff.
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