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New teen center opens in former Mattapan library

Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller is the Banner’s senior editor. VIEW BIO
New teen center opens in former Mattapan library
Boys and Girls Clubs of Boston Board Chair Dana Smith and Mayor Martin Walsh cut the ceremonial ribbon on the new Mattapan Teen Center Saturday.

Elected officials at the Mattapan Teen Center ribbon-cutting included (l-r) city councilors Charles Yancey and Tim McCarthy, state Rep. Dan Cullinane, at-large City Councilor Ayanna Pressley, state Sen. Linda Dorcena Forry and state Rep. Russell Holmes.

When the new Mattapan Library opened its doors on Blue Hill Avenue in 2009, civic leaders in the neighborhood hailed the building as a vast improvement over its predecessor, a smaller, aging building that sat tucked away on a nearby side street.

Almost immediately, teens began flocking to the new library after school, stretching the capacity of the building, recalls neighbor David Lopes, a member of the Wellington Hill Neighborhood Association.

“We needed a place for kids to hang out,” he said. “We don’t want kids just out on the streets.”

A year ago, the Boys and Girls Clubs of Boston stepped in to help meet the Mattapan teens’ needs, embarking on a $2.6 million renovation of the old library building that transformed it into a state of the art teen center.

Saturday, elected officials and neighborhood residents gathered at the Hazleton Street building to cut the ribbon on the new Mattapan Teen Center, which will serve an estimated 175 youths a day. The renovated space, which retained many of the neoclassical details from the original library building, has been updated with a performing arts space with seating for 75, a recording studio, a computer lab and a kitchen. The central feature is a a large, central lounge area with built-in high-backed couches, which, as Mayor Martin Walsh noted, were in use Saturday.

“When you come through the front door, the first thing you see is young people talking to each other,” Walsh observed. “We need to create more great spaces like this.”

Beyond the lounge area, a fuchsia-colored wall perforated with rectangular transom windows stretches to the top of the barrel-vaulted roof. Beyond the wall is the performance space, with a small stage backed by a large Palladian window that splashed the small auditorium with late afternoon sunlight.

There Walsh, other city and state officials gathered to cut a ceremonial ribbon on the center and took in a performance from a teen group calling themselves the Mattapan Teen Center Stomp Crew.

Five years after the new library branch opened, Mattapan is undergoing significant changes, including the construction of a new Fairmount Line commuter rail station and the planned re-development of the site of the former Cody Ford dealership on Cummings Highway.

“Everything is falling into place,” said state Sen. Linda Dorcena Forry. “There are a lot of new opportunities for Mattapan residents.”

Other officials at the ribbon cutting included state representatives Russell Holmes and Dan Cullinane, city councilors Ayanna Pressley, Charles Yancey and Tim McCarthy and Chelsea City Manager Jay Ash, whom Governor-elect Charlie Baker appointed head of the state’s housing and economic development entity.

Boys and Girls Club CEO Josh Kraft said the Boys and Girls Club became interested in developing a site in Mattapan after they conducted a study four years ago and found that the neighborhood teens were underserved.

“There wasn’t an abundance of youth programs here,” he said. “We responded to the request for proposals. We saw that we could serve teens here.”

Kraft noted that 87 percent of the construction workers on the renovation project were people of color, and 85 percent of the subcontractors were minority-owned business. Boston residents made up 65 percent of the workforce.

In addition to the $2.6 million build-out, the Boys and Girls Club invested another $2.5 million in an endowment to run programs at the center.

“We’re making a compact that we will be here every day for these kids,” said Dana Smith board chairwoman of Boys and Girls Clubs of Boston. It’s a commitment that stretches across generations.”

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