AUGUSTA — City teenagers are expected to have a new place to call their own later this year in downtown Augusta.

The new home of the Boys & Girls Club of Augusta Teen Center is planned for 244 Water St., a longtime bank building donated to the club by developer Richard McGoldrick, who also owns and has donated other buildings in Augusta.

Officials said the large, prominent building offers much more space to better serve local teens’ needs. It is expected to open this fall.

Charles Huerth, executive director of the Augusta Teen Center, said the new space, which is about five times larger than the center’s existing site in one large room in the basement at the Buker Community Center at 22 Armory St., is to provide local teenagers their own space.

At the center, teens can be mentored, learn workforce and socialization skills that will help them succeed in their lives and, if needed, receive counseling, including crisis and mental health services in a partnership with Crisis & Counseling Centers of Augusta.

Huerth said he hopes the new location in the heart of the city’s downtown will bring teens into more contact with city businesses and residents, their neighbors. He said several downtown business owners and employees have already expressed interest in coming to the club to talk with teenagers and serve as mentors.

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Plans include a commercial kitchen and a digital cafe, which would be open to the public, helping teens learn work skills and giving them experience interacting with others.

“Teenagers can be a misunderstood group,” Huerth said. “A lot of people struggle to communicate with them, and it can be a struggle for them to learn to interact with others. The (cafe) will be a way we can get teens learning workplace skills and help them be a part of the community. That’s an exciting thing, to be able to help teens and adults learn from each other.”

 

The Boys & Girls Club of Augusta Teen Center is expected to move later this year into this building at 244 Water St. in downtown Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Shawn Mclaughlin, an owner of State Lunch, a restaurant and bar at 217 Water St., and a new member of the Augusta Teen Center board, said downtown should be a great spot for the teen center.

Mclaughlin said he has heard from other business owners and workers willing to volunteer to help mentor teens. He said he had a rough childhood growing up in Boston, and was able to turn his life around thanks to others who mentored him.

“I remember, as a kid, sitting where they’re sitting,” Mclaughlin said of what spurred his interest in helping with the teen center.

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The city has assessed the building at $663,000 for tax purposes. Ken Walsh, chief executive officer of the Alfond Youth & Community Center, which is based in Waterville and is assisting the Boys & Girls Club of Augusta in moving the Augusta Teen Center to its new home, estimated it is probably worth about $800,000.

Walsh said he expected to negotiate a price for the building, and was pleased when McGoldrick called to say: “My family would love to be involved in this. We’re going to give you the building.”

While the building is in good condition, the former office space need be renovated for use as a teen center, which along with the commercial kitchen and cafe, is expected to include a computer lab, virtual instruction center, space where teens can access mental health services, a “teen clothes closet” where clothes, school supplies, hygiene and other items teens may need can be made available to them, and where they can just hang out together and simply be teenagers.

A fundraising campaign is planned with a goal of $1 million to cover the cost of renovations and help get — and keep — the center’s doors open. The public portion of the campaign is scheduled to begin March 3 with an open house at the site.

Andrew Silsby, president and CEO of Kennebec Savings Bank, speaks Thursday during an event announcing a donation from KSB for the new Augusta Boys & Girls Club Teen Center at 244 Water St. in downtown Augusta. Silsby says he began his banking career in the building, working as teller in his teen years. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

But funds are already being raised, including a $50,000 donation from Kennebec Savings Bank, which bank President Andrew Silsby delivered to the center’s new building Thursday.

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At 18, Silsby began his banking career at the same building, when it was Northstar Bank. Walsh said Silsby was one of the first people to offer to help the center, even before the building had been donated.

“We’re extremely pleased to be involved. The teen center really needed to have a permanent home,” Silsby said of the donation from Kennebec Savings Bank. “With the teen center’s move to downtown, we are proud to support building brighter futures for not only these teens, but for Augusta as well.”

Huerth said the club is open to any teen who wants to come and, other than being in at least seventh grade, there is no restriction on who can use the facility. The club’s programming generally targets teens who are at risk, low income or low performing, and is available at no cost.

“It’s open to any teen that wants to be here,” Huerth said. “When it comes to teens, all teens are at risk, in different ways.”

A few teens from the club who have come over to see the new spot have been impressed, according to Huerth. He said teens will be involved in helping determine the layout of the space, which now includes large open spaces, some smaller rooms, a kitchen and the old bank vault, which still has a massive black and gold metal door.

The new Augusta Boys & Girls Club Teen Center at 244 Water St. in downtown Augusta is to feature this old, ornate safe. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Huerth said some teens have been calling the bank vault area the “safe space,” and its function will actually be along those lines. He said while the safe door will not be used as the door to the space, the space itself will be used as a “quiet room,” where teens who are feeling stressed or overloaded can find peace and calm.

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In partnership with Cony Middle and High Schools, the center is expected to continue providing an alternative to a suspension program in which workers and volunteers address issues that are causing negative behavior at school and help teens develop coping skills.

Rob Gordon, who retired in 2019 after a lengthy stint as leader of the United Way of Kennebec Valley and is helping raise funds for the Augusta Teen Center, praised the alternative to a suspension program, which he said can be credited with helping keep teens in school, which could help save their lives.

Officials said the program has decreased suspensions in Cony Middle and High Schools by 67%.

Workers from Crisis & Counseling Centers reportedly plan to offer teens at the club a range of support, including crisis counseling and mental health services, according to Amber Kruk, communications and development director.

Amelia Metcalf, development specialist for Crisis & Counseling Centers, said a behavioral health interventionist is expected to engage with teens at the center and work toward prevention, “so it’s not this thing where you have to reach crisis level to get mental health help.”

The 10,260-square-foot, two-story building served most recently as office space for the Maine Department of Health and Human Services and, before that, was a series of banks, including Fleet Bank.

Huerth said he hopes the additional space will allow the center to serve more teens.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the center, which offers after-school and summer daytime programming, would typically serve about 50 teenagers a day. Since the pandemic began in March 2020, bringing social distancing requirements and many other challenges, daily attendance has decreased to about 25 teens a day.

Huerth said he expects the new location to bring in more teens because it will have more space and offerings and the new location is more centrally located, making it easier for more teens to walk from their homes to the center.

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