From left, Brandon Garzon, Rocio Castillo, Angelica Jiminez, Estefany Castillo, Aljalyna Bond and Darnisha Conley, all 14, hang out at The Garage after school.
Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune
Debbie Therrien, right, leads a writing skills program at The Garage, working with, from left, Darnisha Conley, 14, Natasha Diaz-Cruz, 15, and William Garzon, 13, who were writing a short story together.
Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune
Boys and Girls Club, Garage look to partner
- Article by: KATIE HUMPHREY
- Star Tribune
- February 24, 2012 - 6:17 PM
In a push to expand amenities and programs at The Garage, a popular afternoon and weekend recreation center for teens, the city of Burnsville is exploring a partnership with the Boys and Girls Club of the Twin Cities.
Plans presented to the City Council this month include a new kitchen and dining space, an expanded sport court and an improved outdoor patio at the former city maintenance garage.
The Boys and Girls Club would operate the facility, currently led by city staff, opening the facility all week to kids age 5 and older. The Burnsville school district, which already offers after-school tutoring at the site, would also play a larger role.
The proposal has clearly excited city officials, who tout the potential for a public-private partnership and more stable long-term funding for The Garage.
But news of the possible partnership got mixed reviews from the teens who frequent the facility and serve on advisory boards to plan activities and do fundraising for the center. They said they like the proposed remodeling of the facility but that they were hurt the city didn't include them in discussions about the Boys and Girls Club partnership.
Teen leaders not happy
"It came out of nowhere," said Sasha Martin, 16, vice chair of the Garage Advisory Board.
Cheyenne Umbreit, a 17-year-old who chairs the Garage Advisory Board and works part-time at the facility, said, "We should have been involved in the discussion."
Eric Billiet, who was the city-employed director of The Garage from its opening until he left this month for a new position at the Minnesota Department of Education, said it has been frustrating for him and Garage Advisory Board members to see their hard work portrayed as inadequate.
"The idea of merging with the Boys and Girls Club could have happened without throwing The Garage under the bus in the process," Billiet said, noting instances where City Council members underestimated attendance figures and said they haven't had good return on their investment. "You can tell it hurts [the teens] to hear those things."
At a recent meeting, City Council members assured the students that details of the partnership are still up for discussion and said the teens would be included in future discussions.
"The last thing I want to happen is have The Garage lose its identity," Council Member Dan Gustafson said. "The dedication of staff and the kids is remarkable."
City officials said the proposal allows for improvements that have long been wanted for The Garage.
"This, for me, assures that The Garage and a place for our youth will be sustainable through time," Mayor Elizabeth Kautz said.
Council Member Dan Kealey, who has pushed the plan, said, "What these partners bring is a lot more financial resources, a lot more programming and bigger, broader programming that invites kids down to the age of 5."
Many of the financial details, including how to pay for the estimated $600,000 to $700,000 renovation, are still to be decided. But City Council members hope donations from foundations and the private sector will cover much of the cost.
A $60,000 grant from the Bremer Foundation jump-started the renovation discussions, which had been in the background for a couple of years.
And the Rixmann family, owners of Burnsville-based Pawn America, have pledged $250,000 toward the project. That money, plus more for remodeling costs, would go to fund for 10 years a Kids Feeding Kids program -- a Boys and Girls Club program in which kids prepare dinner for each other daily at the club.
Opened in 1999
The Garage opened in 1999 in a repurposed segment of the city's circular maintenance garage across the street from the Burnsville police station and City Hall.
Since then, it has become known across the metro as a hot spot for music and teen bands, drawing about 200 spectators to typical weekend shows.
The facility is open four days a week after school, with about 50 kids stopping by to do homework, get help from tutors, attend support groups and just hang out.
The city annually spends about $75,000 on operations at The Garage. The rest of the center's $337,000 budget in 2011 came from grants, fundraising and revenue from concerts.
In city budget discussions last fall, Kealey, who works for Rixmann, has said he would like to see the city eventually cease contributions to Garage operations.
"I don't want to see any additional taxpayer dollars go into social programs, which is the youth Garage," Kealey said, explaining that the city's core functions should be public safety, roads, sewer and water service. "It has been very successful to date in what it does, but I believe that this type of operation and social outreach into our community belongs in the hands of professionals like the Boys and Girls Club."
Katie Humphrey • 952-746-3286
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