Fall opening timed with start of school year
by: Vern Uyetake Willamette Christian Church intends to lease this space near Safeway on Salamo Road to open a teen center.

Plans for creating a new teen center in West Linn are moving forward.

A group of church, city and school representatives and parents met April 11 to discuss the next steps in bringing the teen center to fruition.

Back in February, Willamette Christian Church announced it had entered into an agreement through a letter of intent with Cascade Summit Shopping Center managers to lease the former Blockbuster site with the idea of opening a teen center.

However, plans have changed slightly since then. Chase Bank, which had the original option to lease the Blockbuster site, has decided to go ahead and use it.

But, across the parking lot, Healthy Pets is planning a move down to Highway 43 near the new Walmart. The church will instead lease that space, which in many ways, might be a better site.

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.

Students from Rosemont Ridge Middle School, as well as others, 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. 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.

Heading up the teen center project is Chris Yarco, executive director of Willamette Christian Church, and Sherri Oswald, the church's outreach director.

'There's a lot to update you on,' she announced at last week's meeting, which was attended by Jones, Assistant City Manager Kirsten Wyatt, state Rep. Julie Parrish (R-West Linn), police Officer Mike Francis, parks and recreation Interim Director Ken Warner, Rosemont Ridge Principal Debi Briggs-Crispin and three parents.

Yarco shared with meeting participants the church's plans.

The church is moving ahead with organizing an advisory board and a design team. To make the teen center community-based, the church wants the advisory board and design team to include a cross-section of members, including teens.

The design team will determine what the space will look like and how it will function. Will it be furnished with tables and chairs or maybe couches and cushions? What colors appeal to the younger generation? Will there be food carts, video games or organized activities?

Yarco wants the space to speak to kids.

'It's fun, it's casual, it's a place they want to flop,' she said.

The new space, located east of Safeway, is 3,400 square feet and backs up to Tanner Creek Park. It will be vacated by June 1.

'We think this space will give us some neat elements, like proximity to the park behind,' Yarco said.

Jones agreed.

'In my opinion, in many ways, this is a better space,' he said.

In the meantime, the church wants the advisory and design teams to meet weekly during April and May to come up with a plan for programming and design.

The group plans to hold a soft opening in August with a grand opening coinciding with the start of school in September.

The church will use the space on Sundays to house its youth programs and services. The church plans to install a contained stage area, a storage area, audio-video equipment and flatscreen TVs. However, Yarco said the space will not look or feel like a church.

'You're not going to see Jesus on the wall, but we're not going to hide who we are either,' she said.

Programming for the space is the biggest hurdle for the teen center. Most of the meeting participants agreed that the kids who hang out at Cascade Station do so because they want to relax, be with friends and have some independence.

If the teen center is too structured and supervised, some people fear the students won't use the space. Finding the right balance will be vital.

'It's our plan to make sure this is a place kids want to come to, but parents are comfortable letting their kids go there,' Oswald said.

Parrish, who has a student at Rosemont Ridge and works in marketing, recommended that the church employ social media such as Facebook, texting and Twitter to attract teens, as well as offer incentives for them to come to the center.

'There's all kinds of ways to get the kids in through the door,' she said. 'It's how you tell them. Make it random. That's how my kids consume data.'

To help fund the teen center, the church applied for a community grant from the city of West Linn. The church applied for $14,800.

The city's Citizens Budget Committee will review grant applications April 24. According to Warner, from the parks and recreation department, the city has $22,300 available for grants and has received 21 applications totaling $57,699.

Yarco said the church has budgeted an estimated $100,000 for operations, including the lease, taxes, insurance, maintenance and utilities.

She said the costs of the teen center will be sustainable through the church's outreach budget.

'It's something the church community feels is important,' Yarco said.

The build-out budget for construction and furniture has not yet been determined.

Yarco said the church has received 55 messages from church members and the broader community supporting the notion of a teen center.

'We're just pleased everybody sees the opportunity to fill the need,' Yarco said.

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