BRICK – Old carpeting has been ripped up and water-stained ceiling tiles have been taken down as construction begins for a new teen center to be located in the Brick Civic Plaza in a storefront adjacent to the township Recreation Department.
Funded by a $25,000 grant from Ocean Partnership for Children, Inc. (OPC), the center would have two flat screen TVs for video games, a pull-down movie screen, an electronic workstation area for downloading and editing music, a pool table, and more.
According to Director of Recreation Dan Santaniello, township teens were surveyed to see what they would like to have included in the teen center. Although a majority of the teens wanted a pool, the space was designed using the survey results, he said.
“Not all kids like sports, so we want to help keep kids off the streets and give them something to do, and enhance Brick Township as a whole,” Santaniello said.
He said the Recreation Department is hoping to partner for grants with other organizations such as NJ Department of Children and Families and/or Preferred Behavioral Health whose specialists could mingle with the kids in an informal setting.
Santaniello said counselors from the schools could come in and interact with the kids and their peers wouldn’t know they’d spoken to a guidance counselor.
“There would be no lectures. It’s not formal. We want the kids to come here,” he said.
Council vice president Andrea Zapcic said the teen center has been on her radar since she was the coordinator for the Brick Municipal Alliance from 1998 to 2004.
Zapcic recalled open mic coffee houses for teens in the township that were hosted by Harbor House between 2006 and 2009, when 60 to 100 kids would come to hear their friends perform. She said there was good attendance for the coffee house, movies and dances for kids, but there was no dedicated space. By 2009 a lot of the activities for teens wound down, she added.
“Then we got notice of this grant opportunity from Colleen Finnegan – who is under contract for youth engagement with the town – and then she kicked it over to me,” Zapcic said.
First they had to find out if the township was eligible for the grant, she said. When they learned it was eligible, they ran it past Mayor John G. Ducey.
“He was on board, so Danny, Colleen and I met with the township grant writer, Tara Paxton, and then we were invited to make a formal presentation to OPC,” Zapcic recalled.
Zapcic reached out to Harbor House to once again partner with the grant, and Councilwoman Marianna Pontoriero – who is president of the Harbor House Board – made sure it was on their agenda, Zapcic said.
“They gave us their blessing, so Harbor House will help to staff the teen center. They can provide counselors in case a kid in crisis comes in,” she said.
The initial plan is for the center to be open on Thursdays from 2:30 until 10 p.m. Zapcic said they would add additional open time when the township partners with other community organizations.
“Would we like to have it open seven days a week? Yes, but we’re not going to jump into it,” she said. “There are a lot of maybes right now, but it’s really important to provide a place for our teens, but at no cost to taxpayers.”
The space for the teen center has been empty since a preschool/daycare center closed about 10 years ago. Santaniello said the space has been used for meetings, but that storefront and two others in the township-owned Civic Plaza have been underutilized until now.
The township recently enlarged its preschool area there and the Brick Township Education Association has offices at the Civic Plaza, as does the Police EMT offices, and the Brick Community Children’s Theater. The only tenants are the Chamber of Commerce and Oskar’s Pizza.
Plans for the other two storefronts include making one a meeting space for various civic organizations, and turning the other into a storage facility for Recreation Department supplies which are currently being stored in various trailers around town, Santaniello said.
“We’re making this into a true Civic Plaza,” he added.
The teen center should be open by the end of September or beginning of October.