Arlington Hills opening kicks off summer


Teen boys took to the courts on opening day of the long-awaited Arlington Hills Community Center. The 41,000 square foot facility celebrated a grand opening on Thursday, May 22. (Patrick Larkin/Review)

Library-goers were able to check out books and browse on the opening day of the community center. (Patrick Larkin/Review)

Kids, teens, and families all came to check out the new Arlington Hills Community Center. The stairway leading down to the teen center and gymnasium is decorated with wood paneling and a minimalist chandelier. (Patrick Larkin/Review)

Teens scoped out the center’s teen area, where they’ll have access to hi-tech gadgetry, a recording studio, and a performance space. (Patrick Larkin/Review)

A kid’s play area was a curiosity for young East Siders. The Arlington Hills Community Center seeks to be a resource for East Siders of all ages, from toddlers to seniors. (Patrick Larkin/Review)

East Siders turned out in numbers on Thursday, May 22, to check out the brand new Arlington Hills Community Center, a long-awaited multi-purpose space officials are hoping will serve as a backbone for the community.

The place was teeming with families on the grand opening day, and teens strode confidently through the space, weaving through the crowds with basketballs in hand while the Farnsworth Aerospace school marching band played triumphant tunes.

17-year-old Geremiah Walker Fleming had skateboarded a few blocks from his house to the facility on a whim to check it out.

He seemed impressed, calling the place “pretty cool, pretty clean,” and asked for directions to the basketball courts, which were already being used by a group of teenage boys playing a pickup game.

When asked if he’d be frequenting the place, he smiled, shrugged, and said “probably.”

Transformative building

As part of the ribbon cutting speeches, Ward 6 St. Paul City Council member Dan Bostrom touted the facility as “a brand new gateway to Payne Avenue.”

St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman called the building “a project that is going to transform this part of the East Side, a project that is going to transform the lives of children in this community, a project that is going to propel families on the East Side forward.”

Originally a $8 million project, the final price tag was around $14 million, Coleman noted, thanks to the efforts of city staff and community members.

Coleman called the facility a first of its kind for the city -- the center combines a recreation center and a library with a number of other community assets tied in as well, including adult learning classes, community meeting rooms and a community kitchen.

“When a child steps into this building,” Coleman said, “there’s going to be a caring adult that is going to take them and direct them in a postiive direction, in a way that will change their lives, in a way that will give them better alternatives than them being out on the street causing trouble, and in a way that says ‘you matter to us.’”

In the teen center, dubbed the Createch Studio, kids were getting their bearings, writing on the white board walls, and playing with some tech gear brought over by a teen tech crew from the Science Museum of Minnesota.

Oanh Vu, manager of the tech team, said the crew will be at the East Side teen center once a month. She said the teen center adds a permanent resource that’s lacking in the city -- “This will be open every day the library’s open,” she noted.

Connecting with kids?

Kashai Johnson, East Sider and father of two young girls, considered the facility with cautious optimism.

“It looks to be capable of providing neighborhood kids with something to do,” he said. “These kids need an outlet.”

But he said he’d be looking at the long term, and at the staff engagement with kids.

“Many things start out energetic,” he said, but he wants to see “if they can provide kids with things to do summer after summer.”

Jamar Shaw, 27, is perhaps the kind of guy Johnson will be looking to -- Shaw’s the recreation leader at the community center, and also grew up going to East Side rec centers.

He said he’s optimistic about the facility’s draw for teens and for the community at large.

He was spending the opening making sure things ran smoothly in the gym, and could be seen talking with the group of boys who’d formed a pickup basketball game.

The gym’s just the kind of thing he could have gone for as a kid, he said.

Stunned

Former East Sider Michelle Pratt stopped by with her teenage daughter to check out the new facility, and said she was stunned. The majority of Pratt’s six kids spent time at the old rec center at the intersection of Payne and Maryland. She pointed out to her daughter where there used to be a street running through what’s now a patch of grass, and the “itty bitty rec center” on the corner.

“It’ll be packed,” she predicted. “(Kids) haven’t had a good gymnasium, they haven’t had a safe place to play in years.

“Where do you get this many teens getting together and there’s nothing bad going on?” she wondered aloud, optimistically.

For more information about the community center, visit http://arlingtonhillscc.org/.

Contact Patrick Larkin at 651-748-7816 or at eastside@lillienews.com. Follow him on Twitter at @ESRPatrickLark.

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