PLEASANT HILL -- The new teen center is loaded with everything kids could ask for, but Pleasant Hill resident Tirza Harrison says restrictions on who can use it mean the actual teens will be missing.
When it begins next month, the after-school program for middle-school students at the center will include time for homework and socializing.
Although high-school students are welcome to volunteer after school as tutors, or work the front desk and snack bar, at this point they won't be allowed to hang out at the teen center at the same time the younger kids are there.
Harrison, who has lived in Pleasant Hill for 11 years, says it's not fair to exclude teens from the center, which the Pleasant Hill Recreation and Park District built with $3.5 million in voter-approved bond funds.
"When I voted on Measure E, it specified that parks and rec was going to offer a new teen center to keep our youth away from gangs and crime," said Harrison, who has a 16-year-old daughter.
She says she wouldn't have voted for the bond had she known that teenagers would be excluded.
"My point is, we passed this measure, they got the Pleasant Hill residents to agree on this, and now they're not following through," she said. "It's not a teen center. It's a day care center for sixth- to eighth-graders, and our teens can baby-sit for free. I believe they should have the exact same access."
Katrina Hunn, recreation supervisor for teen programs, said some parents she talked to were leery of mixing younger and older kids. For example, in a survey of 156 parents of children who attend one of the three Pleasant Hill middle schools, three respondents said the district should separate younger and older kids. Hunn also pointed out that the center will offer more than the after-school program -- teens will be able to take classes and participate in other activities. In addition, she expects high-school students to be less interested in coming to the teen center since some of them are involved in sports and clubs after school.
"I'm just trying to offer them the safest and most productive program that I can," Hunn said. "From all the research I've done from other programs in the Bay Area, they keep the age groups separate."
She said the district is considering holding drop-in hours for teens two or three days a week from 6 to 9 p.m. if the budget allows.
Harrison thinks that's not enough.
"I really want a place for teens to go -- for high-school kids to hang out and not just once a week, not just twice a week," she said.
Dennis Donaghu, recreation and park district board chairman, said he appreciates Harrison's concerns.
"It's obviously not a middle-school center, it's a teen center -- and teen to me is 13 to 18," he said.
Donaghu said he's not sure that having younger and older kids at the teen center at the same time would cause problems, particularly since the district is aiming to have one adult staff member for every 15 kids.
"It is a teen center, it's for all teens. It's fine, you can have a program, but to me that doesn't preclude teens who aren't participating in the middle-school program from being there," he said.
"It's not going to be utilized to the exclusion of any one group, not while I'm on the board."
Lisa P. White covers Martinez and Pleasant Hill. Contact her at 925-943-8011. Follow her at Twitter.com/lisa_p_white.