0703 youth center

The City of Anacortes wants to build a community youth center on the site of Cap Sante High School at J Avenue and 22nd Street. Cap Sante moves in September to a building at Anacortes High School. (Richard Walker / Anacortes American)

The Anacortes School Board will review a report this summer detailing the successes of programs at community youth centers like the one the city would like to build on land owned by School District.

Superintendent Mark Wenzel said he and city Parks Director Jonn Lunsford will meet in the next couple of weeks. “In regard to a decision, this summer will likely help us develop a timeline” for possible development of the center, he said.

The decision: whether to lease to the city the soon-to-be-vacated Cap Sante High School site at 22nd Street and J Avenue for the proposed community youth center; Cap Sante is moving in September to new quarters with Anacortes High School.

A rendering in Lunsford’s report shows a 21,000-square-foot, two-story community center with a Boys & Girls Club, teen center, gymnasium, fitness and dance room, and a performing arts studio.

The city would lease the land from the district for 50 years, Mayor Laurie Gere said.

Research shows benefits

Lunsford’s report provides examples of “evidence-based programs that have statistically shown what happens in communities when you build these community youth rec centers,” Gere said. “The School Board is the steward of that property, and they have to make sure whatever they use school district property for falls in line with their primary purpose of educating our students.”

Parks department staff members collected information from community youth centers in Spokane, Tacoma, Mercer Island and the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Family Research Project.

According to Lunsford’s report:

• A community youth center can meet many needs: Drop-in recreation center with space for a Boys and Girls Club; after-school arts center with space for independent work and classes; and a space for youth music rehearsals, recording and media work.

• A community youth center can serve multiple uses, with classes for young children and older adults during the day and, after school, drop-in recreation, STEM programs and art activities.

• A well-run and adequately funded community youth center “could create an active and successful place for youth to engage, improve healthy habits, receive mentorship and become leaders,” Lunsford wrote.

• The Harvard study found participants in youth center programs “boosted academic performance, improved behavioral skills, increased health and wellness, and avoided criminal activity and drug use,” Lunsford reported. He said the study found specific keys to success: 1) access to and sustained participation in the programs … 2) quality programming, and 3) partnerships with families, community organizations and schools.

He added, “As measured by grades, test scores and attendance, academic performance increased where programs successfully mixed tutoring and skills building with fun and diverse enrichment activities. Homework help combined with recreation or socializing in a way to engage youths was the common thread of success noted in the Harvard study, ‘After School Programs in the 21st Century.’”

Idea emerged from task force

The proposed community youth center evolved from input the city received from its drug task force five years ago.

“Teens said, ‘Give us a place where we can go and hang, where we can make a meal or do homework or play music,” Gere said. “And there’s always been a need for more gymnasium space for all of our programs we have between the school and the city.”

The city and the School District signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) on June 14, 2018, committing to explore the feasibility of a community center. Gere told the School Board in March 2018 that 22nd and J is preferred because of its proximity to Anacortes Middle School and the Fidalgo Pool & Fitness Center.

The estimated cost of construction: $9 million, which would be partly covered funds raised through a capital campaign. Gere told the School Board in March 2018 that a donor has pledged up to $5 million in matching funds, but she didn’t want to start a capital campaign to raise the rest of the money until the city leases the site.

Lunsford’s report estimates the annual cost of operating the center at $350,000, but he said June 24 that the figure could be less or more.

Wenzel said he and Lunsford last met about two months ago.

“At that time, (the district) shared a matrix of all the youth activities in Anacortes that we had compiled,” he wrote in an email. “The goal was to see what is already in place and to assess how a community center could best serve needs.” That’s the information Lunsford and his staff have been collecting.

School district and city officials are “lockstep” in agreement with the concept of a community youth center, Gere said. She said she’s confident that before the city-district agreement to explore the idea expires on Dec. 31 “we can sit down and say, ‘This is something that will work for the school district long term.’”

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