Services for teens hang in the balance as Teen Center site is debated

Services for teens hang in the balance as Teen Center site is debated
Potential site for the ATC, corner of Meetinghouse Lane and Center Road

ATC awaits word from two Woodbridge commissions

By Sheila McCreven-Helfenbein, Correspondent
Orange Bulletin November 8, 2001

After meeting with officials and students at Amity High School in the wake of increased concerns about substance abuse among Amity teens, Linda Cohen of the Amity Teen Center (ATC) was eager to help. A group of students had set about reviving a group called Students Against Drunk Driving (SADD) and had asked the ATC for space to hold meetings.

Since the ATC became homeless nearly six years ago, finding permanent space has proven to be a major challenge. As a result, their plans to help meet substance abuse counseling and prevention needs for Amity teens are in a holding pattern.

"We are trying to be responsive to their needs, but we are finding that no one will give the ATC regular space. We have been offered space in the Center Building {in Woodbridge} but the only room available is the gymnasium and this does not lend itself to small group discussion" said Cohen. She also notes the signs posted outside the building that describe the video surveillance in practice there as another factor that might discourage teens from coming to the building for substance abuse counseling and prevention meetings.

The SADD group would like to be open in the evening and man phone lines for peer counseling. In order to do this, the group would need to be sponsored by an outside agency and be located off-campus. The ATC is willing to provide this framework and Cohen expressed hope that, with ATC guidance, this student group "could apply for grant money for substance abuse counseling and prevention, with the ATC and Amity school system as co-sponsors."

But since the ATC became homeless nearly six years ago, when the town of Orange built its new firehouse on the Boston Post Road taking back the ATC's original building, finding permanent space has proven to be a major challenge. As a result, the ATC's plans to help meet substance abuse counseling and prevention needs for Amity teens are in a holding pattern.

Currently, the ATC's application for permission to build a completely self-financed new facility in Woodbridge has been caught in a process that has sent the question shuttling between the town's Publicly Owned Properties Commission (known as CUPOP) and the Woodbridge Human Services Commission (HSC).

newsclipping 11-8-2001
Article published in the November 8, 2001 edition of the Orange Bulletin

Both groups have been asked by the Woodbridge Board of Selectmen (BOS) to study the request and make a formal recommendation to the BOS before the ATC application is reviewed by the Town Planning and Zoning Board (TPZ).

The ATC met with CUPOP three weeks ago to present architectural drawings revised since the center was moved from one proposed location on Center Road (the Rice property) to the presently proposed location just before Town Hall as you enter Meeting House Lane from Center Road. These new plans call for the building to be constructed in the area that presently serves as an adjunct parking lot for town hall. This parking lot would then be replaced by new parking behind the ATC building.

The ATC's architect, Woodbridge resident Jeff Kaufman, explains that it would also be possible to add approximately 3,600 square feet to the lower level of the building to accommodate meeting rooms or offices for the town's public works or EMS departments, if the town is interested in solving its own existing space crunch this way. If this lower level, walkout space is not used by the ATC, but by a separate agency, an elevator would not be required under the Americans with Disabilities Act and this type of expansion to the original plans would not be prohibitively expensive to build, according to Kaufman.

The construction of the proposed ATC facility would be fully funded by donations to the ATC building fund and plans are also being made to create a maintenance endowment fund to ensure that no future maintenance expense would ever be placed on the town of Woodbridge. The ATC envisions a lease agreement in which the ATC would own the building and merely lease the land on which it is built from the town.

If a deal for partial town use of office space on the lower level is worked out, separate heating and electric zones could be created in the construction phase to keep utility costs from intermingling.

The only monetary donation to this ATC facility by the tri-towns would be the original operational contribution the three towns have paid all along.

Last week, the members of CUPOP met to "walk the site" of the proposed building. Tony Schaffer, newly appointed Chair of CUPOP said this site visit would help the group get a feel for the location as it considered its recommendation. Schaffer said his group has been asked, "to focus on the question of development of this particular site, not on any building's potential use."

CUPOP is expected to meet tonight to discuss the issue. Schaffer said he is "hoping to get to the bottom of it quickly" and return a recommendation to the BOS as soon as possible.