PLEASANT HILL -- The free trial at the teen center ends this summer, when the Pleasant Hill Recreation and Park district will begin charging drop-ins $10 a day.
In the fall, the fee will go down to $8 a day. But will kids show up? So far, the promise of foosball and video games hasn't been enough.
Attendance data from the first three months the teen center has been open reveal that, on an average day, fewer than 20 middle school students participated in the after-school program. Meanwhile, no high school students showed up during the twice-weekly, three-hour blocks of time reserved exclusively for their use.
"When we decided to do the teen center, I always knew the middle school group was the group we need to target because there aren't a ton of opportunities for them," said Katrina Hunn, recreation supervisor for teen programs. "They don't have the after school sports like the high school kids, so that was always my focus."
Although attendance grew in February, Hunn would like to consistently draw 50 to 60 kids a day.
The district offers transportation to the teen center from Pleasant Hill Middle School, Valley View Middle School and College Park High School for $2 a ride.
The recreation district has sold 68 annual memberships, which cost $25 for district residents and $35 for nonresidents. From November to January, the teen center brought in revenue of $9,970 in membership dues, rental fees and snack bar sales. The recreation district spent $20,852 for salaries, supplies, utilities and other teen center expenses during that period.
Although district staff had planned to charge $150 a month for the middle school student after-school program and $9 a day for drop-ins, in November the board agreed to a free trial until March 31. The fee-based classes, including online driver's education, guitar lessons and baby sitting had light attendance. Overall, the teen program lost $48,132 from November to January, according to Mark Blair, accounting supervisor.
The recreation district board members agreed to suspend the high school student program temporarily until Hunn develops activities based on feedback from a survey and focus groups with teens. Classes tailored to high school students including money management, college planning and employment development are scheduled to begin in the spring.
Board member Sandra Bonato pushed for incorporating more educational opportunities as part of the after-school program, which includes homework time, physical activity and free time. She also expressed concern that the same kids are coming to the teen center.
"I don't want to see that $3.5 million building devoted exclusively to a very small group of middle school students," said Bonato, who voted against charging drop-in fees.
Attracting older teens, whose after-school hours tend to fill up with athletics, clubs and part-time jobs, is a challenge in other communities, too. At the Silliman Center in Newark, a $95 annual membership or a $6 drop-in fee gives kids in grades 6-12 access to a gym, fitness center, swimming pool and teen area with pool tables, computers and other amenities. Although high school students play basketball or work out in the fitness center, they only stop by the teen area briefly to play a video game, if they come in at all, said Amy Davis, recreation coordinator for teen programs. Getting the middle school students to show up is harder than it used to be, too, said Davis, whose program draws about 10 kids a day.
"In this tech age they are still able to stay connected to their friends with their cellphones and through Facebook, when five years ago that wasn't the case," she said. "There's not the same push from kids to be in the same place with their friends."
Lisa P. White covers Martinez and Pleasant Hill. Contact her at 925-943-8011. Follow her at Twitter.com/lisa_p_white.