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July 20, 2010 > Looking to the future: Ashland Youth Center project

Looking to the future: Ashland Youth Center project

By Robin Michel
Photos By Robin Michel

Governmental agencies and non-profits are struggling to maintain core services as devastating cuts to education and social services continue to grow. This summer, teens-who often bemoan the lack of something to do-can't even count on the standby summer jobs to relieve summertime tedium, keep on track and out of trouble, and provide a taste of real world experience. Youth unemployment is at an all-time high: the June unemployment rate for 16 to 19-year-olds nationwide is 25.7 percent. (California is the third among the fifty states in total unemployment at 12.4 percent). Sounds pretty bleak, doesn't it?

However, a very exciting project is taking place in Alameda County to help: the new Ashland Youth Center, opening in mid 2012. According to Alameda County Supervisor Nate Miley, one of the project partners, the construction of a park, new multi-use gymnasium and youth center will serve the young people of the unincorporated Ashland area for years to come and serve as a catalyst for redevelopment efforts.

The Ashland Youth Center is a $25 million project funded by the Alameda County Redevelopment Agency to construct a 31,500 sq. ft. facility. It will provide recreational, educational, health care and job training services to youth within a larger recreation complex that includes a public park, multi-use gymnasium and new track and field facilities.

An Open House, hosted by the Alameda County Redevelopment Agency and the Alameda County Health Care Services Agency, was held at the Ashland Community Center, to give the public an opportunity to meet the architects and project partners, and review the building design and construction schedule. In addition to Supervisor Miley, project partners on the agenda included Eileen Dalton, Director of the Redevelopment Agency; Pedro Naranjo, Ashland Youth Center Project; Mallory Cusenberry, architect; Larry Lepore, Park Superintendent for the Hayward Area Recreation and Park District; and Ashland Area youth. Another project partner is the San Lorenzo School District.

One of the most exciting aspects of the project is the direct involvement of teens in the design and programming of the youth center. Not only do they have a voice in planning a program and design that teens will embrace, they are also developing critically important leadership skills. As Pedro Naranjo pointed out, "This is the development of a youth center that has included youth development."

Lamont Thompson, a recent San Lorenzo High School graduate, and Nia Mohammad, who attended Edendale Middle School and will be entering San Lorenzo High this fall, spoke to an audience comprised of community members, non-profits and school districts about the charrette, or intense design period. "We worked on the project for two months," said Lamont, "but it felt like six years."

He looks forward to seeing the vision for the teen center become a reality.

Nia also spoke about how empowering it was to be part of the design process, saying, "They [the architects] took our input and actually implemented it."

Architect and Design Team member Mallory Cusenbery said that having teens involved in the design is what gives the project its extra "wow factor."

After the presentation, Ashland area teens were on hand to answer questions on the project, their involvement, and exhibits, which included a three dimensional model of the teen center. Construction will begin in 2011 and the grand opening is slated for mid 2012. Pedro Naranjo will be the Executive Director of the youth center once it is built.

Listening to the middle and high school students describe the charrette process, the new architectural and programmatic vocabulary learned, how they brainstormed a program priority list, and how they problem-solved space and budget considerations in developing a conceptual design was exciting. Their enthusiasm and passion for playing a key role in developing the vision of a dedicated space for youth that will offer a health clinic, library, multi-media room, dance studio, arts room, day care, and cafˇ that could host all sorts of events from hip-hop to poetry, was contagious. It can only be summed up in one word: Wow!

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