A place to go: Soldotna explores possibilities for teen center

Posted: Friday, April 01, 2011

After failed attempts to create a teen center in 1990, 1991, and 2002, Soldotna is taking another stab at making a safe, fun hangout for its younger crowd.

Photo By M. Scott Moon
Photo By M. Scott Moon
Lucas Trux, front left, raises his arms victoriously after beating Keenan Segura, front right, at a video game at the Kenai Teen Center last week. Thomas Reamer, teen director Tony Travers, Vlad Glushkov and Kacie O'Sullivan watch. Some Soldotna residents would like to see a similar facility for their youths. "I think it would be awesome," Travers said. "They don't have a facility like this now, so where do the kids go?"

While the project is at best in its preliminary stages, still, the ball is rolling. Mayor Peter Micciche has put together a survey so area residents can offer their two cents on the matter, and, if they choose, volunteer their time to participate on a committee dedicated to the fruition of a Soldotna teen center.

The effort failed as ballot initiatives in 1990 and 1991, and effectively fell by the wayside in 2002 after receiving another jumpstart from the Boys & Girls Club. The 2002 attempt was abandoned for lack of space and funds, while the prior two most likely failed because taxpayers didn't want to see an increase in their mill rate.

Nonetheless, Micciche believes the need is there, and that this push could quell the concerns of residents watching the bottom line.

"If we can show taxpayers that for a fairly low cost we can provide those services, they're going to support it," Micciche said, pointing to the possibility of using donated space or getting other youth development organizations involved to lower costs. "If it's going to come out of their pocketbook in a pretty big chunk, they won't."

Kirsten Moore, a 47-year-old mother of two, thinks that regardless of the price tag, the community has a responsibility to keep its youth on the straight and narrow.

"I would love to do it myself if I could," Moore said of constructing a teen center. "We just want a positive, cool, fun place for the kids to be able to go that's safe."

Looking after a 14-year-old daughter and 11-year-old son means that Moore's interest in the issue is more than theoretical; she's witnessed firsthand the lack of recreational options for kids in that age cohort.

"It's a small town," she said. "There aren't that many things to do. I would rather have my kids have a safe place to get together rather than a parking lot."

Moore has been in contact with Councilmember Brenda Hartman, who supported the issue while campaigning for a council seat. Hartman said she routinely receives calls and comments from parents inquiring about the status of the center.

"Their kids are all looking for a place where they can spend time that doesn't require that they are in a sport and doesn't require that they spend money purchasing drinks or food," Hartman said.

Hartman, who works at Central Peninsula Hospital, said she sees kids whose parents work at CPH come in and sit around all the time because they have nowhere to go between school and sports practice. She also noted that a lot of teens can't afford to patronize Kaladi Brothers and McDonald's constantly, and that it's hard to organize after-school get-togethers with friends since parents are usually at work and disallow gatherings when they aren't home.

"They'd like to have somewhere to go," Micciche said. "For the kids who -- for lack of a better term -- fall through the cracks and aren't involved with sports or clubs at the schools, there's not a place for them to go."

The 13-question survey that Micciche put together will be used to gauge community interest and compile data on what people would like to see in a teen center, such as video games, academic assistance, music, billiards, and other activities.

Micciche envisions the survey will lead to the formation of a committee, which will immediately begin to look at potential spaces for the teen center to launch a sort of "pilot program." Instead of constructing an entirely new facility, the center would initially be set up in a presently vacant space, where usage rates and predilections can be observed and taken into account before investing in a long-term structure.

"Certainly my goal is that one of the folks that is blessed enough to own one of those buildings that has been vacant for a while might consider helping with the pilot program by donating some space," Micciche said.

In addition to being sent out with the next round of utility bills, copies of the survey will be available on Monday at City Hall and can also be printed from the city website at http://ci.soldotna.ak.us/pdf/teen_center_survey.pdf.

Surveys should be filled out and returned to Soldotna City Hall by May 15.

Karen Garcia can be reached at karen.garcia@peninsulaclarion.com.

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