New Canaan's Outback teen center down but not out
Teen center 'refocusing on finding a direction'
Published 3:39 pm, Wednesday, April 22, 2015
After cutting drop-in hours at the Outback Teen Center last week, the board of directors of the youth facility is hoping to close an $80,000-plus shortfall within a month and get the doors at Outback open again, board President Sangeeta Appel said.
The center announced it had stopped drop-in hours on April 16, but will hold already scheduled events for teens through the end of the school year. While the status of drop-in hours is uncertain for now, Appel said they are confident they will return by the beginning of the next school year.
"Right now, we're refocusing on finding a direction and how we are going to have financial stability," Appel said. "We are kind of downsizing so we can focus on this new direction."
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The board announced the scaled back hours and that it had taken over operations last Thursday as the center seeks another funding model to close the $80,000 to $100,000 shortfall in operational costs for the center's building.
During the just completed 2015-2016 town budget deliberations, the town government did not act on a request to cover those costs as part of a three-year pilot partnership to repurpose the center to expand programs to serve the wider community and not just teens. Town officials also left open a decision on whether to maintain $19,000 in funding for next year, as the center develops a plan to support itself.
The teen center building, which was built for $1.5 million in 2001, is owned by a nonprofit corporation but is on town-owned land that the group leases.
Despite seeing a 30 percent growth in use in the center in 2014, Appel said many foundations and businesses are no longer supporting the center at previous levels.
"There is not as much money available through foundations and corporate sponsorship, and they often want to donate things for town use and not for paying the light bill," Appel said.
The Outback board has been reviewing funding options to remain sustainable for the past two years, and in 2013 conducted a study that recommended a partnership with the town to become more financially sustainable.
While acknowledging there are other groups providing services to teens, the review said the center provides a unique setting for non-sports-related recreational and enrichment programs for youth.
Penny Young, a town council member who worked with Outback officials this year to review their operations, said the reduced hours are probably necessary while the nonprofit group develops new sources of funding and revenue.
"They might need to have this hiatus period while they are doing this analysis to develop this new business model," Young said. "There is no way to gauge support or the lack of support thereof from the town until the model is developed and discussions are proposed to the council, the board of finance, and selectmen."