Teen Center of Excellence // Ferguson, Missouri

October 3, 2019, was a day filled with hope and joy in Ferguson, Mo., for it was the unveiling of the new Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater St. Louis Teen Center of Excellence. The 27,000-square-foot, $12.4 million facility was funded by individual and corporate donors. The center will serve area youth ages 12 to 18, providing gathering space, positive activities and education opportunities to teens in neighborhoods lacking youth programming. The three-level building sits on West Florissant Avenue, an area where violent protests occurred in 2014 following the police shooting of teen Michael Brown. But now the city seeks to move past the negative national attention that followed those events.

Design-build firm KAI acted as general contractor on the project, and St. Louis-based design firm Arcturis provided architectural services. Rachel Sarvis, an architect with Arcturis, said there was extensive planning before the project broke ground. "We worked with the Boys and Girls Clubs as early as 2015 on planning and analysis efforts to develop the program, evaluate site selection and prepare budgets. The club was very involved with stakeholder organizations within the Ferguson community, the County of St. Louis and civic leaders to provide education around the Teen Center and to gain insight into its role in the community."

In collaboration with the client's vision, the goal was to design a bright and engaging environment for the organization's youth, according to Sarvis, and by situating the building close to the street, it activates the street, draws people in, and connects the project to the surrounding neighborhood.

"On West Florissant the glazing around the gym allows for activity on the interior to be seen from the street edge. At the heart of the design is a flexible light-filled central atrium, where teens and mentors can informally gather, study and relax. The double height space is surrounded by classrooms, a teaching kitchen, auditorium, innovation/maker space, offices and a gymnasium. Large windows throughout are strategically positioned to signal a warm and welcoming embrace to the community and bathe interior spaces in natural light."

Sarvis explained how every design decision was made to respect the club's needs regarding budget, durability and overall function. "White walls and raw materials were used for the interior to act as a blank canvas for the club while exposed structure and unique details allow teens to experience the design visually. Vibrant pops of color were carried throughout the interior on strategic architectural elements and furniture. Colorful metal window surrounds on the second floor dictate specific functions within the building. Natural light was maximized within each space."

As one of the only dedicated Teen Centers in the nation, the club created a well-equipped innovation and maker space to provide teens with access to progressive educational and hands-on opportunities, according to Sarvis. She described how the Boys and Girls Clubs of America have programmatic recommendations for youth facilities at the national level, and the St. Louis organization married these best-practice recommendations with the local elements that the community desired. These programmatic elements included a gym, teaching kitchen, music studio, drama studio, auditorium, intellectual commons, game room, fitness center, an art studio and staff offices. "Due to the amount of desired programming, we knew that the plan of the building had to be efficient. Locating the intellectual commons at the center of the building maximizes the amount of programmed spaces, creating an internal atrium," said Sarvis.

The center also features an outdoor basketball and activity court, as well as an outdoor garden, since nutrition and wellness are a core programmatic focus, according to Sarvis. "This hands-on space will eventually provide an opportunity to teach the teens about the entire culinary cycle and maximize the on-site teaching kitchen experience."

Programming will include an emphasis on the following: health and wellness opportunities through yoga, healthy habits training and open gym; education and workforce development including college tours, ACT/SAT prep, tutoring, job readiness, internships and summer employment; leadership and civic engagement through community service opportunities, character programs and advocacy training; STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) initiatives via visual and performing arts, coding, app creation and robotics; and visual, musical and performance arts through a theater, drama room and music studio.

Sarvis said that by building the Teen Center of Excellence in Ferguson, the Boys and Girls Clubs organization will create a positive environment in a community belabored with difficult realities and negative national press. "The center is the first development in this area, and the aspiration is that its presence will spark even more development. It is a very bright opportunity, and we think, a story of national merit." RM



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