A long-gestating effort to construct a teen center in south Santa Fe officially has come to fruition.
After nearly two decades of discussion, city officials broke ground Tuesday morning on what will become the three-story, 17,000-square-foot Southside Teen Center, which officials hope will bring youth services to the area.
The approximately $10 million structure, made possible through a combination of state and city funds, will rise at the corner of Country Club Road and Valentine Way, across from the Southside Branch Library. It will include a gym, basketball courts, game room, an arts space, lounge and more.
Mayor Alan Webber said he saw the building as a “down payment on the future” of the southern Santa Fe, which officials have pinpointed as the city’s fastest growing region.
“It really isn’t about a building,” Webber said. “The building is the physical object, but the commitment to the community is what is really behind it and the south side is really essential to the community.”
Albuquerque-based Jaynes Corp. will handle the construction; national architectural firm Wilson and Co., which has an office in Albuquerque, designed the building.
The project will take 18 months to construct.
A teen center has been on the radar for city officials for many years and has been a pet project for District 3 City Councilors Roman “Tiger” Abeyta and Chris Rivera, among others.
Abeyta, who also serves as the chief professional officer at the Boys and Girls Club of Santa Fe at Zona Del Sol, adjacent to the site of the teen center, said he remembers speaking with Webber at a nearby bus stop bench shortly before the pair were elected to office in 2018. They identified the teen center as a goal for their first terms.
“It was an initiative that I said I was going to make my priority,” Abeyta said. “I am just glad that it happened.”
Rivera, first elected to represent District 3 in 2012, said he didn’t foresee the project falling into place until Abeyta became involved.
“I had been working on it for such a long time that you always remain hopeful,” he said. “But once Councilor Abeyta got involved — he is so involved with the teens and youth of Santa Fe and the Legislature was all on board — I knew we were all on our way.”
Abeyta also credited former District 3 City Councilor Carmichael Dominguez, who first voiced a need for teen-focused amenities in the south side in the mid-1990s, when the Tierra Contenta subdivision was being developed.
Dominguez said the groundbreaking was “better late than never,” noting the city has been discussing a need for more services on the south side since before he was on the council.
“It’s interesting how this community, as progressive as it claims to be, we still have the same problems as other communities where there are inequities,” he said. “The young people have always dealt with the results of that inequity.”
Julie Sanchez, the city’s Youth and Family Services Division director, said there are places around the city that have programming for teenagers, including the Genoveva Chavez Community Center, but outside of the Carlos Ortega Center and its after-school programming for kids ages 12 to 18, none cater specifically to teens.
Dominguez said the city originally envisioned a center that would bring together a group of nonprofits to help provide services, including child care, recreation and tutoring, but the collaboration was difficult to make work. The recession in 2008 also tightened state and city budgets.
“The state couldn’t even pay their own bills, we couldn’t ask them for money,” Dominguez said. “The economy was in such a mess that raising money privately would be a whole different challenge.”
But the project didn’t stay dormant and gained momentum in the past few years.
In all, the state allocated $6.8 million to the project, with the city adding $3.2 million, including $1 million to match a $1.1 million state contribution to pay for the first phase.
Abeyta said working with state legislators was imperative to get the project off the ground.
State Sen. Nancy Rodriguez, D-Santa Fe, who previously served as a Santa Fe County commissioner, said the project has taken a healthy level of community commitment and determination. She added the center might be called the Southside Teen Center, but it’s for teens across the city.
“We let the community tell us what they want; what they needed,” Rodriguez said. “Sometimes we do things thinking we know what people want, but that is not always the case for them.”
Abeyta said the city has been working with the Santa Fe-based nonprofit EarthCare, which focused on supporting and empowering local youth, to discuss potential programing at the center and plans to continue having those discussions through the construction period.
He said teens are clamoring for tutoring, mentoring, driver’s education, résumé and career assistance programming.
Many city officials at the groundbreaking noted that while the teen center will provide additional services for the area, other issues in the south and southwest parts of town need to be addressed, including park access and senior services.
“Making the city a seamless place where everyone is valued and every part of the city is taken care of is the future of Santa Fe,” Webber said.