If you ask Darlene Adu-Gyamfi, a Dominion High School junior, a teen center for the neighborhoods of Sterling is long overdue.
She welcomed a new plan to turn the Sugarland Run Community Center on Greenfield Court over to the teens. "Finally. They surveyed us about that five years ago," she said Friday. "I think it’s a good idea. We need that. I’m bored."
She was not alone. Dwight Roberts, a Dominion High School junior, agreed. "It’s about time. There’s nothing to do around here.”
Greg Smuckers, a Seneca Ridge Middle School eighth-grader, said a teen center would be "pretty cool."
"People can get to know each other better," he said.
SUPERVISOR MICK STATON (R-Sugarland) has been working with the Sugarland Run Homeowner's Association to renovate the building and install a computer lab with Internet access, a coffee shop, an area to view movies, among other amenities.
Bob McNanly, president of the Sugarland Run Homeowner's Association, said the county would pay three quarters of the renovation costs and the HOA would fund the remainder. Homeowners would have to vote on whether to support the deal. "We're going to renovate it, regardless of county support," he said. "It's a community decision."
Staton said $734,000 in capital funds was available to cover the county’s portion of the renovation, plus about $122,000 for the proposed first year of operating costs. This was based on six months of operation, beginning in January 2006. Future operating budgets would be about $250,000 per year, he said.
The HOA would continue to use the building part time, he added. The building is next to the community outdoor pool. A basketball court and volleyball net also are on the property.
"It's a wonderful opportunity," he said. "Particularly in the northern area of Route 7, kids under driving age, basically they have nothing to do. This really addresses the group that does not have licenses."
Staton said the county has been wanting a teen center for a long time. "It would put it in an area where it is needed, Sterling Park and Sugarland Run," he said.
The center would welcome teens beyond those two Sterling communities.
Renovating an existing building is more cost efficient than constructing a new teen center, Staton said. "If this project can be shown to work, it's a model that can be used across the county at a much lowers cost to taxpayers."
SEVERAL ORGANIZATIONS, including the Loudoun Youth Initiative, have been trying to open teen centers to keep Loudoun's youth away from drugs, gangs and violence. The Community Organization for Prevention Education (COPE) in the western part of the county opened its first March 4. Every Friday, about 300 middle-school and high-school students have attended the teen center's activities at a roller rink in Purcellville. A federal grant provided funding for COPE, a community coalition, two and a half years ago by a federal grant, said its coordinator, Janet Clark.
The youth in western Loudoun particularly need activities to keep them occupied, she said. "We have 4,000 teens that have one fast food restaurant, no movie theater, no bowling alley, no mall, no public venue for them together in large groups."
Another reason the teen center is needed is because of a growing number of teenagers moving into the area, she said. Surveys show that a lack of connectiveness to their communities and neighbors will create a high-risk environment.
Clark said Virginia Regional Transit donated free transportation to and from the teen center until June. "We'll have to fund it after that," she said.
What about busing for the Sugarland Run teen center? Staton took a deep breath. "One step a time," he said.
Carol Kost, coordinator of the Loudoun Youth Initiative, applauded the move to create a teen center in Sugarland Run. Loudoun Youth Initiative volunteers interviewed hundreds of middle-school and high-school students this summer and fall to determine their needs. "Teen centers came to the top of the list," she said. "I believe teen centers address numerous issues, such as a sense of community, a place to call their own and a place to feel connected."
Staton described the teen center as an opportunity to keep youth away from gangs. "It's an investment in our kids' future," he said.