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Boys & Girls Club: Teen center in the works

The Boys & Girls Club of the Bemidji Area is planning to open a teen center this year.

"We're hoping to have it done sometime by the summer," said Leonore Potter, executive director of the club.

The club is renovating the former Bemidji High School football locker rooms in the northeast side of the club building into the teen center. After it's finished, the teen center will be open to high school youth.Plans for the teen center include a lounge area with pool and foosball tables, couches, a snack bar and a portable stage. A computer lab with space for up to 24 computers, an educational and tutoring room and a media room with a big-screen television are also planned.

The club will continue to use the southeast side of building for middle school-aged youth and the southwest side for elementary school-aged youth.

Last summer, the First National Bank Bemidji Foundation awarded the club a $10,000 challenge grant for the renovation with the requirement that the club have matching funds by the end of the year.

On Dec. 2, the club received notification that it would receive a $12,660 development fund grant from Beltrami County Potter said. Additionally, she said, the club's board, staff and teens raised about $2,000.

Now, Potter said, the club is moving forward with the project. She said Sentence to Serve is helping with the renovations during the day and a local contractor has been volunteering with the project. She added that she has written grants to try to get computers for the teen center's computer lab.Josh Kujava, teen services director at the club, said high school youth in the community have expressed a desire for a place to call their own that offers constructive activities.

Drawing high school youth to the club has been a challenge, noted Kujava, adding that some high school youth have the perception that the club is just for younger youth. But, he said, the club is for high school youth too.

Kujava has been talking with high school youth at the club and high schools in Bemidji to get their ideas on how the club can build an environment that they want at the teen center.

Kujava said currently 20-25 high school youth periodically spend time at the club.

"We think we have a pretty good base to start from," he said.

Kujava said he hopes one day to see 200 high school youth hanging out at the club on a Friday night.

"There'd be nothing more satisfying that that," he said.