In a vacant semi-industrial building somewhere in Brookline, you can see the outlines of what could soon become the town's first and only teen center.
Some 30 Brookline teens have spent much of their summer in the shell of a building, running strips of tape along the cement floor to mark where walls, counter tops, basket ball courts and even a bowling alley could soon be built. It's the closest the Brookline Teen Center has come to being a reality in nearly five years of planning
"The first summer was so hypothetical and pie-in-the-sky," said Paul Epstein, a Brookline High School social worker who has led the push for a facility where Brookline teens could spend their after-school hours in a safe environment. "Each summer it has become less theoretical and more realistic."
Epstein recently took Brookline Patch on a tour of the building where he hopes to build the Brookline Teen Center by the end of next year, but he asked that the exact location not be identified until he can work out the details of a lease agreement for the site. As it says on the teen center's website, the facility being considered is located within walking distance of the high school and near both the C and D branches of the Green Line in North Brookline.
The ongoing negotiations over the building haven't stopped Epstein and his team of teenagers from moving the project forward. In the last year, they've begun drawing up preliminary designs with the help of two architects, set up shop in the vacant building to take measurements and mark off the proposed layout, even posted renderings and floorplans on the center's brand-new website. Epstein has also started recruiting an interim executive director to organize the center's board of directors and lead fund-raising efforts.
Though plans for the center could still see significant changes before construction begins, the latest design calls for an 11,000-square-foot space with music and dance studios, a fitness center with free weights and cardio equipment, a lounge with TVs and pool tables, a café with an outside deck, basketball courts, a two-lane bowling alley, study areas and administrative offices. The entire renovation is expected to cost around $3 million.
"This particular building is basically a shell – four brick walls and a roof," Epstein said. "We're going to need to do a lot of remodeling."
The center would be open from 3 p.m. to 10 p.m. most days and operate on a loose drop-in model, though Epstein is also working on scheduled programming, including fitness classes, tutoring and SAT-prep courses. Once teens swipe in with an identification card –security at the center would be tight – they would be free to eat in the café, play basketball, study with friends or just lounge in front of the TV.
"We're not afraid of the words 'hang out,'" Epstein said.
The facility would be open to all teenagers who live in Brookline, as well as those who attend public and private schools in town. Teens will need to buy a membership, which Epstein said would be sold on a sliding scale.
The center would likely be staffed by three full-time administrators and a number of part-time staff. But Epstein said he and fellow-social worker Ayanna Kilpartick, who has helped run the summer programs and plan for the center, would not be among them
"We're both going back to our full-time jobs at the high school very happily," he said.
The development of the Teen Center has taken five years and more than 100 students, many of them enrolled in the summer programs run by Epstein. This year, the teens worked in several teams to develop the Teen Center website, work on designs for the center itself and build a mural for the exterior of the center. Epstein called the summer program a "microcosm of what we want to do at the center."
And there's plenty of work left to do. So far, the center has raised $2 million of the $3 million construction cost with the help of two large gifts, and it still needs to raise the money cover its annual operating budget.
Undeterred by the work ahead, Epstein hopes to break ground next spring and hold a ribbon-cutting ceremony by the end of 2011. And while he's clearly excited about all the cool facilities and activities the center could soon offer, Epstein said the project is really just about providing a place for teens to hang out under supervision and out of danger.
"Anything would be better than nothing," he said. "There is such a vacuum right now for adolescents out side of school – it's almost a black hole."