Teen center to remain open in Coon Rapids

The Element Center Teen Center in Coon Rapids will remain open.

The Coon Rapids City Council at a work session Tuesday agreed to continue the teen center at the city-owned Riverwind Recreation Center on Northdale Boulevard in 2014 and beyond.

The center will close Dec. 20 as planned for the Christmas holiday, then reopen Jan. 6 with its regular hours – 4:30-7:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays and 6-9 p.m. Fridays for the rest of the year, including the summer.

Funding will come from a $7,500 donation from Coon Rapids-based Cedar Valley Exteriors and the city, some $3,500 taken from the community education budget, which totals $112,500.

Teen center staffing will also remain the same and for the time being continue to be overseen by the Anoka-Hennepin District 11 Community Education Department as it has been since The Element opened in 2002.

But during the year, city staff will explore with community education the possibility of having the city take over staffing responsibility, according to City Manager Steve Gatlin.

If the city did assume the operation of the teen center, Recreation Coordinator Ryan Gunderson would look at the possibility additional programming for the teen center.

But that would only happen if the teens that use the center express interest, said Gunderson.

According to Gatlin, the teens using the center have stated they like to just “hang out” and enjoy the activities including video games, pool and foosball.

And Councilmember Steve Wells said that the teens “don’t want adults telling them what’s best.”

The teens at The Element “like it so much because it is not structured,” said Mayor Tim Howe.

“The kids like to go there the way it is,” said Councilmember Bruce Sanders.

But Gunderson said he has spoken to the teens at the center about additional programming in the future and they seem open to it, he said. “There’s a lot of potential there,” Gunderson said.

According to Gunderson, the teen center serves a population of 80 to 100 kids, although only 15 to 20 are there are any one time.

One area that will be looked at in 2014 is the hours, Gunderson said. The kids get out of school at 2:30 p.m., but the teen center doesn’t open until 4:30 p.m., he said. “What do they do until then,” Gunderson said.

The later hours also mean that the teens cannot use the second room at Riverwind beyond a certain time because other users have booked it, according to Gunderson. “Riverwind is heavily used by other groups,” he said.

The city is also going to consider some electrical, plumbing, heating/air conditioning and insulation improvements to bring Riverwind, which opened in the 1960s, up to current city code standards.

That work would likely cost in the $25,000 to $30,000 range with the money coming from the city’s facilities construction fund, Gatlin said.

While concept plans for the redevelopment of Riverwind Park, which is adjacent to the Riverwind building, propose its demolition in the 2017-2020 timeframe, there was no interest among councilmembers in pursuing that, given its use not only as a teen center but also by city groups and for events, like birthday and Christmas parties.

According to Howe, Riverwind is a landmark and “of historical value to the city.”

The teen center reopened Oct. 1 after it had closed Aug. 22 when funds to operate it ran out.

The council approved $3,250 from the general fund to keep the teen center open through Dec. 20, but until the Cedar Valley Exteriors donation there was no funding in place for 2014.

Most of the funding for the teen center had come from an annual appropriation of $5,000 from the city as well as an annual $7,500 grant from the Anoka County Board to Coon Rapids Youth First, which passed on $6,000 of that money to the community education department for the teen center. Community education also contributed some in-kind funding for staff time.

But in November 2012, Coon Rapids Youth First dissolved because of a decline in participation and its remaining assets, some $11,000, were earmarked for the teen center.

But that money ran out in August and the center closed.

Peter Bodley is at
[email protected]