Teen center to stay open through 2015

The Element Teen Center, Coon Rapids, will remain open at least through 2015.

The future of the center, which is open three evenings a week at the Riverwind Recreation Center on Northdale Boulevard, was in doubt last year when one of its sources of funding was eliminated with the dissolving of Coon Rapids Youth First and with it an annual Anoka County Board appropriation of $7,500 to that organization.

But in December the Coon Rapids City Council, which had come up with the money for the teen center to reopen Oct. 1 for the remainder of 2013 after it has closed Aug. 22, decided to keep it operating through 2014 with $5,000 in city funds plus a $7,500 donation from Cedar Valley Exteriors, a Coon Rapids-based business.

The Anoka-Hennepin Community Education Department agreed to continue to oversee the teen center staff as it had done since The Element opened in 2002.

The teen center was back before the council at a work session March 25 because staff will soon start to prepare the 2015 budget.

According to Recreation Coordinator Ryan Gunderson, community education does not wish to be involved beyond this year, believing that because the city is funding the entire operation, it should now handle the staffing as well.

Gunderson offered the council three programming options for 2015 – continue the current operation of three hours a day, three days a week; increase to five days a week at a cost of $18,000 to $20,000; or seek a third party such as the Boys & Girls Club to partner with the city to run the teen center, but at the city’s expense.

According to City Manager Steve Gatlin, Riverwind needs about $25,000 of plumbing and electrical work to bring the building up to code. Funding is available for that project in the city’s facilities construction fund, Gatlin said.

By consensus, the council agreed that the teen center should continue to function as it does now for 2015 with money allocated in next year’s budget. The city would take over the staffing responsibilities from community education and the code upgrades would be made.

“If the kids like it, why change it,” said Councilmember Ron Manning.

What happens beyond 2015 depends on the redevelopment plans for Riverwind Park, which is adjacent to the Riverwind Recreation Center. Some $500,000 in park bond referendum dollars have been allocated for improvements to the park with construction scheduled for the 2016-2017 time period.

Concept plans for the project include demolition of Riverwind, which was built in the 1960s. But when the council discussed that possibility back in December, there was little interest in doing so, not only because of the teen center, but also because of its continued use by many other community groups as well as for special events, such as birthday and Christmas parties.