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Light at end of tunnel for Southside teen center

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

Residents of Santa Fe’s Southside have advocated for a teen center in the area for years, with the project largely placed on the back burner.

Now, city officials say construction will start in several months, bringing the center to an area of the city where such services are largely lacking.

Santa Fe City Councilors, from left, Roman “Tiger” Abeyta, Signe Lindell and Chris Rivera pose on a piece of property where a new teen center will be built on the Southside. The center will be next to the Boys and Girls Club behind them. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Conversations around a possible teen center have been long and slow. Earth Care, a local nonprofit, conducted a survey of Santa Fe teens, published in November 2019, which found many teens felt their community lacked activities, resources and jobs.

“The need for a teen center, especially for one on the Southside, has been a topic of discussion for, like, 12 years,” said Miguel Acosta, co-director of Earth Care.

The survey included specific responses from participants, most of whom said Santa Fe currently lacks activities for young people.

“I think Santa Fe is missing community places where everyone can bond,” one respondent wrote.

Advocates say the teen center will fill that need.

While Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham cut funding for many capital projects during the recent special session, the $3.91 million appropriated for the center was left intact. Combined with money from previous legislative sessions and the city, this brings total funding to $6 million.

The city will request another $890,000 from the state Legislature next session, but Project Manager Anson Rane said an architect will soon begin drawing up designs for the center, with construction set to start next spring in its Tierra Contenta location.

That extra $890,000 will go toward implementing air filtrations and other designs aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19, he said.

Exactly what the teen center will look like still needs to be decided, but Rane said it will definitely feature a gymnasium, performing arts area and game room.

“There’s a void for this type of facility in that part of Santa Fe,” Rane said.

A new teen center is planned for the Southside next to the Boys and Girls Club, left, and the Santa Fe Family YMCA, right. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

The Southside, one of the most ethnically diverse and lowest-income areas of the city, has long been cited as an area with few services for residents.

City Councilor Roman Abeyta, who represents the area, said housing has been the main development focus of the Southside for a long time. “I think it’s just a result of … putting all the affordable housing in one area and us just not being able to keep up with that,” he said.

For years, Abeyta and fellow Southside councilor Chris Rivera have advocated for a center in their district, where many of Santa Fe’s children and young people live.

The city does have the Genoveva Chavez Community Center and the Carlos Ortega Teen Center, but both are located far from the Southside, making it difficult for some young people to access those services.

Rivera also said Carlos Ortega is pretty small and can’t meet demand of the city’s young people.

Abeyta runs the Boys and Girls Club in the area and said the location is often packed with teenagers in the evenings, highlighting the growing demand for their own location.

“We’re averaging between 40-50 teens a night,” Abeyta said, adding teens often have to share supplies with young children.

If a teen center is constructed, he said, they could have an area all to themselves.

Officials say that the Southside hasn’t been prioritized by the city since its annexation in 2014, contributing to the area’s lack of services.

“The Southside is still fairly new, so it’s still trying to catch up,” Rivera said. “There haven’t been that many services for teens.”

While the city secured the rest of the funding during the legislative session, talk of the teen center reignited following the separate killings of three Santa Fe teenagers in a span of two months.

Abeyta said at a press conference he thought the spike in violence came as a result of young people being stuck at home during the pandemic and that the teen center might be a solution.

“It gives them something to do,” he told the Journal.

Earth Care’s Acosta said the teen center will be beneficial to the community, but disagreed it could curb any rise in violence, an issue based largely around poverty and structural racism. He said the center should serve as a hub for the community rather than the solution to issues.

“If they’re looking at this as a solution to poverty, it’s not,” Acosta said. “In and of itself, it doesn’t solve anything.”

Abeyta acknowledged that more amenities are still needed in the Southside, such as a senior home. Rivera said he would like to see health foods stores constructed, since many residents do their shopping at Walmart.

Abeyta also said the Southside could need an additional teen center at some point. “There’s gonna be a need for probably another teen center north of Airport Road,” he said.

The center is scheduled to be completed some time in the summer of 2022, but Acosta said Earth Care is currently working to provide recreation services in the interim. He said he’s lobbying city officials for a “recreation on wheels” program, which would bring recreation supplies to neighborhoods without access to them.

And while teens will have to wait a couple more years for the center, Abeyta said there’s at least a light at the end of the tunnel.

“As soon as it opens, we’re gonna be busy with teens,” he said. “It’s gonna be pretty awesome for them.”

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