The PG&E service center at 2111 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, empty for almost two years, was handed over to the Berkeley YMCA on Friday to be developed into a teen center over the next two years.
The 8,000-square-foot building dedication to YMCA is PG&E’s largest corporate contribution to date. The building is valued at $2.1 million, according to a PG&E press release.
The city will not lose property taxes from the transfer to the non-profit YMCA since PG&E is exempt from paying property taxes.
The YMCA, which currently has less than 400 square feet of permanent space in downtown Berkeley for teen programs, is already making plans to double the number of participants in programs such as Y-Scholars, The Outsiders Club and YMCA Youth and Government, which address issues such as college preparation, employment and leadership development in communities.
“We are delighted,” said Fran Gallati, executive director of the Berkeley-Albany YMCA. “PG&E and the Y are alike in a lot of ways. The Y’s business is investing in the energy for young people and PG&E is constantly looking for ways to improve energy efficiency in the community.”
Although the center is scheduled to open in 2009, Gallati said that teenagers were already involved in different ways. “We are hiring teen leaders from Berkeley High and across the city to the newly formed Teen Task Force which will focus on the needs of young people.”
The task force members will work with real estate developers, architects and teen program providers for the next 12 to 18 months to help design programs for the new center.
City Manager Phil Kamlarz said that the center would keep teenagers away from trouble.
“Anything that helps them make more productive use of their time is welcome,” he said. “A facility dedicated to the needs of young people is a great idea.”
Wil Hardee, director of public affairs for PG&E East Bay, said that PG&E was interested in providing training and employment opportunities for teenagers through the YMCA.
“The benefits of educating the community about energy conservation and helping kids find jobs outweigh giving up the building,” he said. “We want to reach out to the community in new ways.”
Mayor Tom Bates said including homeless youth would be a good idea.
“I am trying to get them to be welcome here,” he said. “It will be a safe and interesting place to hang out and provide them with employment opportunities.”
For some Berkeley High freshmen, the teen center meant safety.
“It will give us something to do with our time apart from watching TV and playing on the computer,” said Berkeley High freshman Cynthia Nayola. “I am hoping for dancing classes, art classes and programs that will help us with school in general.”
Councilmember Linda Maio said the building would be Berkeley’s first teen center dedicated entirely to the needs of young people.
“We’ve done the research,” she said. “Three to six in the afternoon is when teenagers go around doing stuff they shouldn’t be doing. They get easily bored, and this will act as a haven for them. We’ve used school sites in the past but they have always had to share them with other groups.”
School board member John Selawsky said, “It’s close to Berkeley High, the YMCA, the public library, City College and so many other resources. The kids can make use of the center right after school.”
Photograph: Riya Bhattacharjee
Berkeley High School freshman and Berkeley United in Action member Yesenia Espernoza and her friends, Monica Avales and Angelica Gonzalez, discuss future partnerships with the new YMCA Teen Center. All three teenagers participate in clean-up walks in Southwest Berkeley every week as part of Berkeley United in Action.