Neighbors of the long-awaited Southside teen center got the chance to speak up on the design of the building at a neighborhood notification meeting Thursday night, where the design team presented its architectural plans.
Community efforts to get the city to build a teen center on the Southside began in the mid-1990s. If all goes to plan, the city will break ground later this year, hoping to open the doors by the end of 2022.
In March the city received $3.9 million from the state that the Legislature appropriated for the project in 2020.
Wilson and Company, an architectural firm that has offices in Albuquerque and a dozen other cities across the country, won a contract through a competitive bidding process with the city for the design of the building.
According to the design team’s presentation Thursday, the teen center will have multiple spaces for young people to hang out, play sports and games, do their homework and create arts and crafts.
One thing it’s missing: a soccer field.
“The need for soccer space has been identified for years and years and years,” said Bianca Sopoci-Belknap, co-director at community group Earthcare. She says the need was also reflected in a survey the group conducted a few years ago about the wants and needs of teens in the area.
Thursday night’s meeting was only intended to provide the community with an overview of the architectural plan, said Project Manager Sam Burnett, and was not intended to include detailed discussion about programs or services that might be available once the center is built.
City Councilor Roman “Tiger” Abeyta, who is also the chief professional officer of the Boys and Girls Club, said the city should involve community groups and youth leadership in the planning of activities as soon as possible.
“I think that this early neighborhood notification meeting is really good and it has to do with the design and what the building looks like, but there needs to be a few more meetings after this with the actual city—whether it’s community services or whoever is going to do the programming,” said Abeyta, “because we need to get involved since now—and I’m talking ‘we’ like Earthcare, the Boys and Girls Club, Gerard’s House… it’s important that we discuss everybody’s vision.”
Earthcare shares a building with the Boys and Girls Club located next to the planned teen center.
Across the street, the Southside public library offers another community hub.
In the Wilson and Company design, the entrance of the teen center faces the southeastern corner of the block.
A small courtyard in front of the 17,000-square-foot, LEED silver-certified building creates some distance between the entrance and the road. The renderings show a three-story, stucco building shaped like an L with a reception area in the middle. Each story is set back to diminish the impact of its height on the area’s vistas.
The plans include a gym on one side of the reception area, with a game room, a kitchen and a number of multipurpose rooms on the other side.
Behind the building, an outdoor area includes a basketball court, a small green space and a parking lot.
Project Manager Sam Burnett said the entire space is designed with safety and comfort in mind. The outdoor areas would be enclosed and all the rooms facing the back of the building, including the gym, would have glass doors that could open to the outdoors.
“A lot of intention went into making sure that there are windows from inside to outside of the building so that people who are staffing the building have opportunities to observe what’s happening,” said Burnett.
An indoor/outdoor auditorium would be located diagonally across from the building so that young people could host performances in the outdoor courtyard at the back or in the reception area.
Several residents at the meeting raised concerns that the design does not make efficient use of outdoor space, and agreed that a soccer field should be part of the plan.
Others raised concerns about safety.
Gabriela Marquez Villegas, who identified herself as a teacher at a local school, said she felt concerned about the number of homeless people who loiter in other parks, plazas and public areas of the city where young people also enjoy spending time.
“I took my students on a field trip to the railyard, and there were many [homeless people] there; it was really concerning,” she said, suggesting the city could build walking paths around the teen center to give parents and others an opportunity to supervise the youth from a bit of a distance without disrupting their sense of autonomy.
The city will continue to take public comments on the plans for the building after Thursday’s meeting. The next steps, said Abeyta, are to convene a youth steering committee to help direct programming.