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Lease signed for Brookline teen center

Posted by Leslie Anderson  January 25, 2011 06:44 PM

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After more than five years of planning and fund-raising, Brookline’s Teen Center has found a home.

The news was unveiled Monday night at a neighborhood meeting where organizers discussed plans for the top floor of 40 Aspinwall St., a 1930s-era brick and concrete garage with about 10,000 square feet of space.

Tom Mendelsohn, interim director of the Brookline Teen Center project, said a lease was signed in December with Rich Goodman, whose family has run a body shop and sold cars from the site for two generations.

The teen center is the brainchild of Brookline High social worker Paul Epstein and his wife, Saskia. Epstein’s brother, Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein, has helped with fund-raising efforts, his brother said.

Renovation and start-up costs are expected to total roughly $3 million, with construction slated to begin in September, Mendelsohn said.

Fund-raising is still ongoing, Mendelsohn said, although multiple large gifts have been pledged by individuals. No public funds are anticipated.

For the dozens of teens and adults who have been laboring on the project for the last five years, news that the teen center will be built is ‘‘incredibly exciting,” Mendelsohn said.

teens who have been working on making the center a reality for years -- Avi Cohen, Will Soja, and Bianca Senopoulous -- agreed.

“Every weekend I wish I could go to the teen center rather than walking around Coolidge Corner,” said Cohen, a senior.

Home at last count to roughly 3,500 youths ages 13 to 18, the town has no supervised place for teens to gather after school, although for some generations the Recreation Department centers and programs served the purpose. For some, they still do.

But “it’s not nearly enough,” argued Bob Sperber, former superintendent of schools and a teen center board member. “The need is great, and this location is terrific” because it’s within walking distance of most of the population, not to mention the high school.

Richard Ward, director of the Brookline Community Foundation, which is acting as the center’s fiscal agent while it gets established as a non-profit, agreed.

In 2005, Paul Epstein recruited teen interns to survey their peers about what kinds of activities would draw them to a Teen Center. From that came the germ of what is now a fairly developed idea, along with fairly detailed plans about what could go where in the garage.

The teen-centered process has continued since, with teens advocating, planning, and designing the center; and raising more than $350,000 in private donations to cover the internships, professional services that could not be donated, and more.

“Every summer we dive in with more than we can chew,” said Epstein. “And somehow we manage to get through it.”

The current plan, according to Brookline High senior Cohen, is for a candlepin bowling alley, fully-insulated music studio, kitchen, study rooms, arcade, basketball court, performance space, and more.

“We’re looking to incorporate mind-body-spirit,” Epstein explained. “We want to meet kids’ needs: physical and recreational; academic and enrichment; social and emotional.”

Goodman for the past two summers has watched as his garage was flooded with young people and their clipboards, levelers and measuring tape.

“This is a good thing for the community,” he said. “I think my father and mother would like this. This place finally has a happy use.”

Andreae Downs can be reached at andreaedowns@yahoo.com.

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