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Boys & Girls Club of the Bemidji Area announces its new teen center

From left, Jim Heltzer, a representative with the Mardag Foundation in St. Paul, and Sue Engel, a representative with First National Bank of Bemidji, were given the honor of cutting the ribbon to open the new teen center at the Bemidji Area Boys & Girls Club. Holding the ribbon is BABGC board member Bonnie Lundorff. Pioneer Photo/Monte Draper

Teenagers in grades nine through 12 now have a place they can call their own during after-school hours.

On Oct. 29, the Boys & Girls Club of the Bemidji Area unveiled its new teen center, which replaced several of the old Bemidji High School's locker room facilities. The center is scheduled to open in the next few weeks after final safety inspections are completed.

Contrary to how it sounds, the new teen center looks nothing like old locker rooms. But doing this was no easy task.

"It involved basically removing the lockers, showers, bathroom fixtures, and putting windows on the outside and inside, new door ways, new lighting and new flooring," said program director Karl Mork.

Today the teen center is a hip, coffeehouse-like space for teens and includes a computer room with four new desktop computers, a lounge area with couches, a miniature movie theater with seating from the Amigo Theater, a stage and a juice bar.

BABGC executive director Leonore Potter said she couldn't be more proud.

"It's a place for kids to express themselves. We saw the need in the community for teens to have a safe place to go and we want to promote a healthy lifestyle," Potter said.

Previously, the ninth- through 12th-graders mixed with the middle school teenagers, who were allowed to use half of the BGCBA building. The teen side included one "hang-out" room, a game room and a computer lab. But asking 60-plus teenagers of multiple ages to share one space was asking a lot, Potter said.

The new center will only be for teens in grades nine through 12. The middle school teens will continue to use the other half of the building.

Josh Kujava, teen services director at the BGCBA, took on the teen center renovation project a year ago. He sat down with the teens and asked them what they would like to see at the club.

"They wanted a place of their own, separated from the younger kids. They also said they wanted to play their music in a coffee house setting," Kujava said. "It's been a rewarding experience turning those block walls and dungeon locker rooms into a teen center."

Kujava said future plans for the teen center include having open "mic nights," adding a cappuccino machine to the juice bar, having a separate entrance and parking lot, and possibly extending the teen center into more unused locker rooms space in the center.

It took the center a year to secure enough funding for the teen center. The completion of the teen center project cost roughly $80,000, said Potter. Without the major donations from First National Bank of Bemidji, Beltrami County, Mardag Foundation in St. Paul, UPS, and Duane Young Inc., the cost of renovating the teen center would've been much higher.

According to Potter, there exists a stereotype in the community that the BABGC is a place only for young kids. With the newly completed teen center. Potter hopes that public perception will change.

"Teens need someone to encourage them to carry on," Potter said. "If teens had a safe place to go to, it would prolong their chances of being drug- and alcohol-free."