UPDATED: Youth Center Architect Says Deadline For Submitting Input Is Several Weeks Away

About 50 people gathered at the Franklin Middle School library July 25 for a community input session about teh proposed youth center.

Update: The proposed township youth center on Lewis Street should be a multi-purpose building that can be modified to reflect changing tastes through the years, and be one where youth can go to learn, play and keep out of trouble.

That seemed to be the consensus July 25 of about 50 residents who gathered in the Franklin Middle School library to give their thoughts on programs that should be offered in the center.

Architects Martin Kimmel and Robert Reid from the Pennsylvania-based Kimmel Bogrette firm led the nearly two-hour discussion, leading participants through an online survey and taking notes on suggestions made by residents.

Some residents were concerned about the location and anticipated size of the proposed youth center, saying that it should be big enough to serve all township youth.

That’s not practical, said Township Manager Robert Vornlocker.

The Lewis Street spot was chosen because “it was the one spot we cold find to do something good,” he said.

“The primary target audience for this building is children who live within walking distance of this building,” he said.. “It’s intended to serve the area of town that statistics show has the most children at risk. If you look at the census data, this is right in the middle of that.”

“There are many needs in this township and we try to fill them,” Mayor Phillip Kramer said. “This is one of those needs. And this is a need that has been as has been presented to us for 50 years. We’re not gong to solve everything with this.”

“I completely support what we are doing here,” Kramer said. “Once we do this, we can do something for the other needs. We are in support of a YMCA that is likely at his point to come to the township. It will have a  pool. We will be partnering with that pool probably so people in town will have access to that pool.”

“This happens to be in that neighborhood which happens to be a neighborhood in need,” said Township Councilwoman Kimberly Francois (D-At Large), the center’s champion. “We also want to have this be a facility for all of our youth. There’s not gong to be a person at the door saying you don’t live here. The kids from Kingston, if they hear about it, they’ll come to the youth center.”

Vornlocker said that the center will also be used by various social service organizations, such as the Somerset County Youth Services Commission, and will also be staffed by township employees.

Youth-centered programs currently housed elsewhere in the township could be housed there, he said.

The center, Vornlocker said, will be open year-round and will serve youth aged 11 to 18 years.

“It’s encouraging to have so many concerned citizens,” Reid said at the end of the session. He said there will be more opportunities for residents to submit their ideas.

Original Story: The firm tasked to gather community input on the proposed township youth center is more than halfway through the process, a member of the firm’s leadership team said July 24.

Architect Robert Reid speaks to the township Human Relations Commission July 24.

Robert Reid, from the Pennsylvania-based architecture firm of Kimmel Bogrette, told the Human Relations Commission at its monthly meeting that the company has been gathering input from various sectors of the community for the past six weeks or so, and expects to continue that effort for the next “two to three weeks to a month.”

Reid appeared before the commission in advance of the first general community input session for the youth center, set for 7-9 p.m. July 25 at the Franklin Middle School library on Francis Street. He said the company is using other methods to gather information, including email blasts and a survey that was distributed at the township Independence Day celebration.

The Township Council in April awarded a $25,000 contract to Kimmel Bogrette to conduct a feasibility study for the proposed youth center. The center is targeted for a Lewis Street parcel that was once home to the Somerset Community Action Program. The building’s purchase, and its demolition, were funded as part of a $1.3 million bond ordinance approved by the council in April, 2016.

Reid was at the meeting to continue the fact-finding for the study, as well as give the commission members a glimpse at the center’s proposed “mission statement.”

“The Franklin Township Community Youth Center will evolve from the youth and the overall community,” the mission statement begins, “serve the needs of the youth, and empower them to achieve greatness while making Franklin Township a better place to live.”

Commission member Shirin Poustchi suggested that the statement be modified to include language that the center will encourage youth to give back to the community.

Reid said the thought behind the center could be summed up with seven “core values:” It should be safe, instill pride in the community, be “cool,” special, engender respect, encourage learning, and have achievable goals.

“We want to make sure it’s something implementable, not something that dies on paper,” he said.

Commission member Alex Kharazi suggested that language be included saying that the center will provide activities “to strengthen the bonds between individual community members and build bridges.”

Commission member Johnny Tibbs said that the center is being built because of a “lack of services in that area, in the middle of an African-American community” and told Reid that he and others had created a “needs assessment,” complete with an architectural rendering.

“We found out now that the greatest thing to help our community is the training of youth in jobs,” he said. “I want that center to be called a youth development and employment training center. There will not be a basketball court, but there will be a large library and large social gathering room on one of the floors, along with other offices that social service agencies can acquire at any given time, based on the financial support they give.”

His design, Tibbs said, is of a three-story building with a “large banquet room” and kitchen on the top floor.

There will also be “office space, large rooms so we can conduct employment training,” he said. The types of programs he envisioned, Tibbs said, was a nursing training center and training areas for forklift drivers and bus drivers and inventory control clerks.

“Everything we can use to train our young men, our young men need to be trained,” he said. “We hope this center will provide the space that we can train our young men.”

Kharazi suggested adding a space for homeless youth, perhaps, he said, post office boxes, or a place to shower.

Commission chairman Gary Rosenthal and Township Councilman Rajiv Prasad (D-At Large) said that retired teachers and other professionals in the township’s four active-adult communities could be tapped to volunteer as tutors for at-risk students.

“They would like to have a venue where they could provide that help to the kids at risk,” Prasad said. “Our senior communities are full of them, but they are not able to find a place in the school system to do it.”

Another question the firm is asking, Reid said, is “what can this project do for the youth of Franklin Township?”

“At the end of the day, it’s a building.” said commission member Marilyn Altman. “If you don’t have the staff and the program and the financial background to attract people to be there … you can’t just say here’s a building, kids, have fun. It’s not going to work.”

“I’m sure you will create a gorgeous space,” she said. “But in the end it comes down to what happens in the space and how much money this township is wiling to put in to increase the budget” to adequately staff the center.

“It has to be things that people want to use,” Reid said. “There could be a lot of money thrown at things people don’t want to do, then it’s a waste. What’s going to get them off the street, what’s going to be fun, what’s going to educate them, what’s going to get them a job.”

Poustchi suggested that Reid speak to youth in the area targeted for the youth center.

“Every one of us wants to feel ownership in that center,” Kharazi said. “Ownership is key.”

Reid said the the results of the fact-finding will help the company devise an estimated budget for the center, which will then be presented to the Township Council. He said he wanted to get it done in time for the council’s budget-making for next year.

In the meantime, he said, the clock is ticking for people to give input.

“The train’s moving,” Reid said. “Hop on it, give input. If you’re waiting for next year to provide input, you’re too late.”


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