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West Linn teen center is advancing

Design under way, but no programming


A teen center in West Linn is closer to becoming a reality. A space has been secured, designs have been drawn up and a committee is moving forward to plan programming.

Willamette Christian Church plans to open The Summit this fall in the Cascade Summit shopping center where Healthy Pet used to be, near Safeway.

The church held an open house for neighboring businesses and key stakeholders June 12. Participants got a sneak peek into the gutted room, saw renderings and heard about the proposed plans.

'A safe and comfortable environment, that's what this space is designed to be - just a place to hang out,' said Sherri Oswald, the church's outreach director.

Hanging out at the Cascade Summit shopping complex has become a tradition for middle school and high school students, who pass through the area en masse after school and in the summer. Some even consider it a rite of passage.

Students from Rosemont Ridge Middle School, as well as other schools, have hung out at Safeway and the surrounding businesses since Cascade Summit opened. Several attempts have been made to deter kids from congregating there, but all have had limited success.

The issue was brought to city Councilor Mike Jones' attention last fall. In response, he held a meeting with business, city, school and community representatives on Feb. 13 to discuss it. It was at that meeting the church declared its interest in leasing a site for its own use on Sundays and to run a drop-in teen center after school.

'Middle-schoolers do need a better spot to hang out than just in the parking lot,' Oswald said.

Heading up the teen center project is Chris Yarco, executive director of Willamette Christian Church, and Oswald.

'Hopefully it provides a safe, fun environment for kids to hang out,' Willamette Church Lead Pastor Joel Dombrow said. 'We want them to know they are valuable to us.'

The 3,300-square-foot space is being designed to be open with a loft or warehouse feel. One corner will be raised to form a separate seating area or could be used as a stage. A 7-foot loft with seating is also planned. However, most of the space will be open and the furniture will be moveable so kids can create their own seating arrangements.

'Our goal for this space is to create spaces for kids to hang out,' said Jordan Chesbrough, the creative lead who designed the renderings. 'There's a lot of open space on purpose. We want to create spaces that they can claim for themselves.'

'I think it's going to be neat,' Jones said. 'I just respect so much the fact that the church has embraced the community like this.'

The church is using $75,000 for startup costs and will be spending $100,000 annually to lease the space. The key element missing at this time is programming and how to fund it. The church has not mapped out how to pay for a teen center director as of yet.

The church is currently working with Anthony Hall, the executive director of the YMCA of Columbia-Willamette. The YMCA currently operates a traditional teen center in Sherwood and offers teen programs and drop-in centers in Clackamas County and Estacada. Hall is serving on the church's teen center advisory board.

'The Y will be a part of The Summit in whatever role is needed,' Hall said. 'The project is at the very beginning, so it's hard to tell how it will all be structured and set up.'

At the open house, Oswald said, 'You won't hear a lot about programming because we don't know yet.'

The church's youth advisory board is currently working to put together policies and procedures.

Some of the neighboring businesses expressed continued concern that the teen center may exacerbate the number of kids filing through the shopping complex.

Alice Barnham, the liquor store manager, said though her store is not directly affected by the kids, her customers are. 'I have heard a lot of complaints. It impacts our customers. People know to avoid our shopping center on Friday afternoons.'

'This is just a catalyst,' Oswald said. 'What we are doing here will not solve the problem in and of itself.'

State Rep. Julie Parrish, R-District 37, was at the open house. She has a son in middle school at Rosemont Ridge and one approaching middle school. 'It's going to be a fun facility,' she said, adding that it will need to cater to tech-minded kids to draw them in.

'To make this center a success, the church needs to put energy and attention to it year-round,' Hall said. 'The church has funded the facility, but in order for it to be a long-term success, it needs a passionate staff person to manage the center and keep it full of kids having fun.'

When asked about the church's involvement in a teen center, Oswald said the church currently also hosts 50 community groups in its space and also hosts 789 Jam, a monthly teen dance.

'It's in our DNA to be a resource to the community,' Oswald said.

In the permitting process right now, the church plans to open The Summit in time for the start of the next school year and continues to seek funding through grants and donations.

For more information about the teen center, visit willamettechurch.com/thesummit. To make a donation toward the teen center, contact Oswald at 503-656-2328.

(Editor's note: In the interest of full disclosure, YMCA Executive Director Anthony Hall is the husband of West Linn Tidings Editor Lori Hall.)