Milestone Achieved With Youth Center Groundbreaking

Dignitaries participate in the ceremonial groundbreaking of the Franklin Township Youth Center on Aug. 15.

A day that Township Councilwoman Kimberly Francois has thought about for years arrived Aug. 15 with the groundbreaking of the Franklin Township Youth Center on Lewis Street.

Targeted for the land that once held the Somerset Community Action Program headquarters, the 24,000-square-foot, $9.8 million youth center is expected to be open by September 2020.

Francois (D-At Large) has long been the champion for the youth center; she said at her last election that her main goal for this term was to see the center built.

In her remarks at the groundbreaking ceremony, Francois recounted the years that went into what culminated in that day.

“There has been so much thought, and so much input and so much discussion into this great project,” she said.

Francois spoke about the creation of the Franklin Youth Initiative in 2007, which led to the start of a teen drop-in center in Sampson G. Smith School in 2011.

“We very quickly grew out of that space,” she said.

She said that she started talking to SCAP – on whose board she was a member – about it selling its building at 423 Lewis Street.

“Why couldn’t we take that building, get rid of it and build a youth center here in the neighborhood where there is such a need for it?” she said.

Francois said that in 2014, she and Township Manager Robert Vornlocker “started fighting with PNC Bank to have them sell us the building.” She said the township finally bought the building in 2016.

A series of input sessions in 2017 with youth and adults gave planners the information they needed to design the building, Francois said.

“I think what is most critical to say about today and the youth center itself is that we are planning to invest in our youth and give them the life skills that they need: job training, job readiness, recreation, mentoring, counseling, whatever they’re going to need to make them the powerful young people and provide a safe place for them to be at,” Francois said.

She said organizers are looking to the public to become involved in the center as volunteers with programming.

“I don’t want to be the flame that lights the world on fire, I just want to be the spark that lights the flame that will empower future generations of our youth, and I look forward to your help in making it happen,” Francois said.

Mayor Phil Kramer said he was “proud to be on board at this groundbreaking moment.”

Speaking of Francois, Kramer said, “This is something that she has fought for for years, decades. She found the right time when we were no longer in financial distress, we had the money to do this.”

“The need has always been there and she struck while the iron is hot,” Kramer said. “This is just an incredibly wonderful thing, in the right place, at the right time.”

Kramer also noted that the youth center will be home to a northern branch of the township library, something that “we couldn’t have afforded to do any other way.”

Saffie Kallon, the township’s special projects manager, told the crowd that the center is “a gift to our youth and a gift to our community, and I am so, so proud to have all of you here, sharing in that gift.”

“I’m a Franklin Township girl tried and true, and I’m sure many of you are as well, and I’m proud that you are here to share this moment together for our community,” she said. “We are right at the beginning of this journey, that will continue on and on, and I’d like to thank you for being part of that journey.”

Following are some scenes from the event:

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