A place that Southside youth can call their own has been slowly–very slowly–taking shape on several acres now sandwiched between the growing Tierra Contenta neighborhood, the Southside Library, Capital High School and Otero Middle School.
First came the Zona del Sol Youth and Family Center, a collection of nonprofits offering some services for kids and families, including Earth Care, the Boys and Girls Club and the YMCA. It has also hosted community meetings with the mayor and continuing education in Spanish for adults. Next to the building is a fresh-looking basketball court with six hoops paid for by the Kiwanis Club in 2016.
But as the population on the Southside has increased and diversified, it's become clear to District 3 councilors, past and present, as well as community members, that a bigger building with a gymnasium is needed for youth.
"Zona [del Sol] is not big enough," District 3 Councilor Roman Abeyta, who is also the Boys and Girls Club executive director, tells SFR. "For it to be successful, it's going to need a gymnasium. If you look at the Chavez Center, all you have to do is go to the gym to see that's where all the teens are."
The first phase of a full-blown youth center for the Southside is closer to fruition than it has ever been, according to the city, but it's still in the dream stage. A contract with the nonprofit Earth Care for $21,646 aims to engage local teens in the conceptualization process before an architect takes over.
"EarthCare is utilizing a method to have teens lead the conversation that will not only provide input on teens' needs for the center but also build their capacity in civic engagement and leadership," a city spokeswoman writes to SFR via email. "EarthCare has been operating in that neighborhood for years [and] are uniquely suited for this role. They will also incorporate input from past teen summits and build in planning done to date."
Officials developed two early concepts for a teen center in Tierra Contenta: one in 2010 and another in 2016. The city is once again contracting with an architect firm, Spears Horn Architects, to create another conceptual design based on past plans and input from EarthCare's engagement sessions, which are set to finish in November.
Abeyta hopes the teen center will include a variety of health and educational programming for youth and adults, as well as more space to bring in state programs.
"Education is important … and access to information when it comes to health and wellness," Abeyta says. "I think primarily what we want it to be is a hub where different agencies can go in. For example you could offer part of the building for drivers ed classes or evening classes for GED prep or work prep."
The city says the next steps for the teen center call for programming and operational planning, then the design and construction of a 10,000-square-foot facility. There's no estimated completion date since a design isn't complete and funding isn't fully secured. Officials hopes to have a design, an updated cost estimate and a project delivery plan by January 2020. But it depends on a variety of sources for money.
The state Legislature set aside $1.1 million for the teen center during the 2019 session and the city matched it with $1 million from its capital improvements plan. According to a city spokeswoman, the city is hoping for another $3 million and has identified it among top capital funding priorities for next year.
For some in Santa Fe, the need for a teen center on the Southside is well-known. It's been on the table for decades.
"Aside from schools, there's pretty much no public investment in this area," says Miguel Acosta, the co-director of Earth Care. "This will be one of the few public investments in a long time. The building we're in is one of the few, aside from the library across the street."
But Abeyta tells SFR that the recession hitting Santa Fe around 2010 helped to slow the development of a Southside teen center.
The city has long supported the Warehouse 21 teen center in the Railyard near downtown, and that organization was once part of the Southside plan, but it's no longer a thriving aspect of youth life here.
Former District 3 Councilor Carmichael Dominguez and Acosta say many teenagers in Santa Fe, especially in the southern districts, can't or don't use the programing at Warehouse 21, which is why Dominguez has been calling for a second youth center for so many years. No one from the northside teen center returned SFR's request for comment.
"Frankly, just as there are different priorities among adults, there are among youth as well," Dominguez tells SFR. "Warehouse 21 doesn't appeal to some of the youth in the [Southside] community. It's hard to get to. … It's a different demographic that goes there. There's a need for two."