With the amount of success The Garage Community and Youth Center has had in Kennett Square and the number of inquiries coming from parents, the Unionville-Chadds Ford Education Foundation is looking into bringing the same thing to the district.
A group of people which meets as an outreach committee under the foundation have been the ones looking into the idea and the lone location they have in mind right now is the barn located at across the street from St. Michael Lutheran Church, directly on district property.
“We’ve asked the school board to consider leasing the barn that they own,” said Jackie Mass, a member of the committee. “We have been talking about ways to reach the youth and decrease at-risk behaviors. We had seen the reports that Unionville has published about the high-risk, high-resource students in the district. It’s one of the things we want to improve upon.”
The need for a community youth center has been discussed for years and it was recently that a member of the committee mentioned the unused barn and they have been pushing the idea forward since.
“We’ve had permission to tour the barn and we decided to talk to an architect about doing some drawings and the township about possibilities of a zoning variance,” Mass said. “Of course we’ve talked to the school administration and now we’ve gone to our first school board work [session].”
But before they can let their dreams get too far ahead of themselves, they must wait for the approval for the go-ahead from the Unionville-Chadds Ford school board.
“I’m just one member of the board, but I do believe that the idea has tremendous potential,” said Kathleen Do, one of the school directors. “The Garage has proven to be a wonderful asset to Kennett. I am excited for the proposal for the barn.”
And even if they receive the go-ahead, it’s just a thumbs-up to start working on a lease agreement, which will have to be hashed out through the district’s realtors and attorneys, before they can move any further.
But as of now, the board isn’t ready to green light the proposal as many questions have been raised amongst board members.
“Some of the questions have to be asked of our legal counsel and other answers will come from the barn committee,” Do said. “We need to know certain pieces. In my mind, the most important question regards liability. We have a responsibility to protect the district and our taxpayers against any potential or unforeseen problems.
“We’d also like to know a little bit more about what kinds of programs that they would be running there and whether or not these programs are free to all participants. The board has put together a list of questions.”
If a lease does not seem like a good option for the district, the possibility is there to discuss potentially selling the barn to the foundation.
The committee has already approached The Garage Community and Youth Center about taking control of this youth center, which would be within walking distance to students at the middle and high school.
“They can’t do much until they have a real lease and that’s the first step,” Mass said.
Not only would restoring the barn as a youth center be beneficial to students, but also the community as a whole.
“It’s a very central part of our community in terms of being used by other groups,” Mass said. “In terms of the whole school district, a lot of people think of the school property as the center or heart and this could be a resource developed right there.”
A concern of board’s regards having a separate youth center from Kennett. As of now, many Unionville students join those from Kennett at The Garage, putting aside the deep rivalry the two schools have.
“A facility like The Garage has been able to bridge some of those differences and bring these two together, which has been very positive,” Do said. “There is a concern that if we open a facility in Unionville, would it end up being the Unionville students only go the Unionville facility and Kennett students only go to The Garage and a result we might lose that potential to bring students together?”
An idea the board is looking into would be the potential to cross-market the two youth centers, which could be a viable option seeing as the committee would like to run programs which differ from The Garage.
“It would be different programs than the one in Kennett or the one in West Grove has. The barn in Unionville would be something unique to the students of Unionville. They need a safe place to have fun and teenagers need to separate and individuate. It’s hard to do that in your parents’ home all the time.”
On top of the use for students, the center would also be available for use to other groups to meet during the school day or other non-profits at night.
The barn, which sits in disrepair, would take an estimated $800,000 to renovate and construct into a youth center, but it’s all just a rough estimate at this point.
It sounds like a daunting task, but Mass believes the money can be raised through the foundation’s many fundraisers.
“It is in really, really bad shape,” she said. “It’s considered an attractive nuisance now. It’s a big plan and it will take a while, but it feels like things are moving very fast in a very positive way,” Mass said. “Everyone we have talked to is very positive and enthusiastic.”
The school board will continue to discuss the possibilities of the barn in the coming future, but not timetable has been set for voting as of now.