By Marty Farmer
The 49 Lake Teen Center at Stevenson Center will close at the end of the year due to a substantial decrease in usage by teens. When asked about the notable reduction in visits, teens cited a variety reasons for why they don't frequent the facility, including a lack of transportation and friends who use the teen center along with extracurricular activity-filled lives after school and on the weekends.
During the 2011-12 membership year, 49 Lake Teen Center had 1,315 visits (688 member visits and 647 guest visits). By comparison, the 2012-2013 membership year has seen a notable decline in usage with just 288 visits (127 member visits and 163 guest visits). The total number of members for the last three membership years are 27 (2010-11), 45 (2011-12) and 32 (2012-13).
"We have tried multiple marketing strategies to bring in more teens to the center," said Melissa Rimdzius, the program supervisor for the Park District of Oak Park. "We've had fliers at the high school and middle schools, cross promotion with other programs, holding the majority of teen programs and events at the teen center. We've also given away free memberships at events and scheduled all trips to depart and return to the teen center so teens are introduced to the space."
49 Lake Teen Center, which opened Feb. 6, 2008, offers a plethora of amenities for teens, including a pool table, ping pong table, foosball, air hockey, computers, free Wi-Fi access, big movie screen, satellite TV, board games, cards, giant bean bags and concessions. PlayStation 3, Nintendo Wii, XBOX360 and assorted video games are also offered for kids who enjoy gaming.
The cost of a membership for the remainder of the year is $15 (reduced from $25). Teens can also pay a $3 entrance fee per visit. The center's hours have been reduced as well, open Fridays and Saturday from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m., which are the most popular visiting times among teens.
Despite the closing of the teen center, several recreational activities, athletic programs, classes, workshops and events through the park district are planned for this fall. Rimdzius encourages teens to visit the park district website at www.pdop.org to check out a full listing of the available programs.
Closing the teen center, which has incurred greater expenses than revenue in the 2012-13 year, will enable the park district to allocate that money toward other activities and programs teens tend to prefer. Student committees of junior high and high school students are slated to meet with Rimdzius to be informed of future spending and program plans.
"The cost of running the teen center did not play a role in the decision to close the center," Rimdzius said. "The funds that would have been used for staffing the facility are being redirected to programs. This will allow us to reduce the cost of some programs and subsidize other programs to make them more affordable for our participants."
Rimdzius, who was praised for her communication with local teens by the park district board during its Aug. 15 meeting, said she values feedback from Oak Park's teens.
"Feedback from teens is incredibly important for future teen programs and events," she said. "This winter the park district will begin organizing advisory committee meetings for teens who are interested in providing feedback and assisting in planning their own spring and summer events. We look forward to continuing to meet the recreational needs of our teen population with the help of the teen advisory committee."
Teens interested in participating should email to Melissa.Rimdzius@pdop.org for information regarding the meeting dates and locations.
While discouraged about the decision to close 49 Lake Teen Center, the commissioners of the park board haven't dismissed the possibility of another teen center in the future, perhaps located closer to downtown Oak Park. However, no plans for another teen center are in the works.