The effort to build a youth center in Andover got a potential shot in the arm this week, as Gov. Deval Patrick approved a capital bond bill guaranteeing $500,000 for infrastructure improvements at the site of the proposed center.
The money would help cover pedestrian safety, vehicle access and parking costs for the proposed Andover Youth Center, slated to be built behind Doherty Middle School, off Bartlet Street.
But the private Andover Youth Foundation still needs to raise millions to build the center itself. So far, the AYF says it has raised $3 million, less than half the amount needed.
In April 2007, an article was approved by residents at a special Town Meeting, paving the way for a proposed 28,000 square-foot facility on what is currently a parking lot behind the Doherty Middle. The center will be built if the private Andover Youth Foundation can raise the money. AYF would then give the youth center and the land back to the town.
Peg Campbell, president of the Andover Youth Foundation, said the state money is a positive boost, "in keeping with the direction we're going" in fundraising efforts for the center.
"We feel like the progress couldn't bee bigger, better and stronger," Campbell said. "The money for the infrastructure is huge for us ... It's a big ticket item.
"The youth center should have been around a long time ago. We've raised $3 million, but hit some snags along the way. We've had to go through a lot of Town Meetings, getting political issues taken care of," said Bill Fahey, director of Andover Youth Services. "We're beyond that now. We're rebuilding our board, we've had meetings over the summer, thinking about the goal in front of us. We'd like to raise another $2 to 3 million.
"I'd like to see the fundraising 90 percent completed over the next year and a half," he said.
Many members of the AYF board had young children when they stepped in to the project, but those children have now left home for college. AYF is trying to rebuild its board, to add new blood and fresh ideas, he said.
"A lot of people have shown excitement, wanting to get involved," he said. "We want to get people on that won't take no for an answer."
The youth center's $500,000 was part of more than $12 million in Andover projects signed by Patrick on Aug. 14, according to the governor's press office.
"This is a positive development," said Town Manager Buzz Stapczynski, who noted that the money could also be used to install water, sewer and other utility lines to the center.
The $500,000 is especially welcome, said Fahey, because raising money for infrastructure can be harder than finding funding for youth programs and the center itself.
"Infrastructure money was kind of a sticking point," he said. "We didn't have money for it in the budget."
Construction will be another hurdle, said Fahey, because the youth center will have to be built around Doherty's school schedule. He'd like to see construction — even if it were just for the infrastructure, which has secure funding — possibly start next June.
The idea of scaling back the center's proposed design, making the building smaller, is not completely off the table either, said Fahey. The AYF has discussed building what they can with the $3 million, hoping that donations will come in to expand the building from there.
"We'll do whatever it takes," he said. "If we can just get the building going, my experience is that this community will step up 110 percent ... Our hope is that the community can step forward and contribute to it, because it will be their youth center."
"A lot of things are changing, and moving the way we want them to move," Campbell said. "We feel like the stars are aligned and there is so much positive energy around this."
Campbell pointed to the selectmen's May 19 vote, granting approval for Andover Youth Services to move to the Pearson Street property, as an example of the town's support of the center. Having AYS in a larger, better space will allow the AYS programs, and in turn the effort for a youth center, become more visible to the community, said Campbell and Fahey.
"Pearson Street will be a microcosm of what we're trying to do," Campbell said.
Fahey noted he hopes to move his office in to the Pearson Street property in mid-October.
"No, we don't have everything yet we need, but we're going to," said Campbell of the $3 million raised so far. "This is another vote of positive support for the project, and we're really excited about it."
Fahey said he came into his office one morning this month to find an old newspaper clipping someone had left him sitting on his desk. It was a March 1964 issue of an Andover High School newspaper called "The Mosaic," with a headline that read "Where is our teen center?"
The corresponding article was about a group of AHS teens who had raised $100 for a youth center by washing windows, said Fahey.
"Let's get this project over with. The Beatles were invading America when it started," he said with a laugh. "We need to come together and get this going."