Last week’s vote by the Los Altos City Council ensured that teens will have a space in the new Hillview Community Center, an element that wasn’t included in the early stages of planning.
After an outpouring of community support, the Hillview Community Center Project Task Force added a teen center to the proposal the council approved Jan. 9 as part of the $34.7 million budget to revamp Hillview.
Los Altos resident Nancy Bremeau, who attended multiple task force meetings, said the center would make the city feel more inclusive to the town’s teen population.
“Seniors always get preference, and I understand and support that, because they’ve built the community,” said Bremeau, who has a son in eighth grade. “I want them to have a great space, but I want our youth to have a great space, too, where they feel comfortable.”
Teens outline wish list
So what do teens want to see in the space?
Five teens from Los Altos High School invited to a community meeting about making the city more teen-friendly all said that while Los Altos was a great place to grow up, they found it boring, according to Bremeau. Most of them preferred to spend time in Mountain View or Palo Alto.
While there are teen spaces in Los Altos, such as The Underground Teen Center at Shoup Park, they are run-down and infrequently used, Breameau said. In her experience, teens often don’t have a lot to do, and those who don’t drive end up hanging out at Walgreens, Safeway or Starbucks.
Los Altos High senior Javin Pombra said including a cafe in the new teen center “would be really good,” but noted that it’s also a question of who the teen center would attempt to appeal to.
“If you’re making one for middle schoolers, that would be very different than making one for high schoolers,” he said. “A normal, basic cafe would be really good for high schoolers and for seniors as well, but if you’re making one for middle schoolers, you need a foosball table, an air hockey table, vending machines.”
Los Altos High junior Grace Lilygren, member of the city’s Parks and Recreation Commission, agreed that the center would be more popular with middle schoolers than with high schoolers. She added that the center would be more attractive to all teens if it included amenities that teens don’t necessarily have access to every day.
“If you already have a computer, there’s no reason to go to a place to have access to it,” she said. “So if you have games, video games, things that teens are interested in, and potentially an adult or supervisor, someone you can talk to and make it a safe place for any issues going on, it’s going to be more attractive to teens.”
Additional ideas Lilygren and Pombra have for the space include open-mic nights and movie screenings, college counseling, wellness events, an outdoor skate park and crash-course-type classes on interesting topics.
Dedicated or shared space?
Another topic of contention among teens is whether the room should be used by only them or as a multigenerational space.
“I wouldn’t say I’m necessarily against having a teen center, I just think that the point of a community center is that there should be more focus on having places where every community member can come,” Lilygren said. “I just don’t think that the teen center should be the main focus.”
Pombra disagreed, citing the importance of a center specifically tailored to the needs of teens.
“The point that it’s already hard to make a room attractive for both middle schoolers and high school seniors – I think it would be even harder to make a multigenerational room,” he said. “Maybe you can use Hillview Community Center to have more intermixing between generations, but I think that wouldn’t happen through a room, that would happen through events. I think the room should be dedicated to teens.”
The aim of building a teen center is to make Los Altos more welcoming to youth, and Lilygren and Pombra agreed that the city can do more.
“There’s a lot of emphasis on seniors and activities for them, but I don’t see as many events for teenagers,” Lilygren said. “There still are some, and teens are acknowledged, but there definitely is space for more.”
Bremeau suggested that the city could build a small performing arts center or movie theater or host art shows managed by local schools to attract teens.
Pombra said Los Altos should consider adding more retail space to entice teens and create more outdoor space, like the First Street Green project Los Altos Community Investments recently proposed and ultimately rescinded. Pombra added that there also should be conference rooms in libraries for teens to collaborate, and he would like to see stores and cafes stay open later for teens who want to study at night.
“In theory, I could see the teen center being cool ... but I don’t think that it would be an endpoint – it would be a start point,” he said. “I think that retail and coffee shops and developing other parts of downtown would always be more important than just having a teen center in Hillview.”