After two years of planning, the work put into crafting a space for teenagers in Issaquah is about to pay off.
At their April 16 regular meeting, the Issaquah City Council unanimously approved a lease agreement to allow Issaquah Teen Cafe and Friends of Youth to operate their new teen cafe and service center, “The Garage,” at a city-owned building at 235 First Avenue SE.
Issaquah Teen Cafe Director KayLee Jaech said the space will be used as a gathering place for local teenagers who may not be drawn to other extra-curricular activities.
“We started working on this about two-and-a-half years ago as a committee, just trying to create a place where high school students can come and find a connection if they are not finding some through sports, work, or school,” Jaech said.
The program, modeled after Redmond’s Old Fire House Teen Center, is design to offer a safe place for teens to meet with friends and access teen-centered programming and services such as counseling and tutoring.
“Any program that takes place there has been developed and implemented by the youth, instead of adults telling them what they should be doing, this is a place for them to own and create,” Jaech said.
Issaquah Teen Cafe (ITC) is a community group that was started in 2015 to work on teen activities and programming. For this project, ITC partnered with Friends of Youth as a fiscal sponsor and together they submitted a request to the city to allow them to use a space for their teen center.
At the meeting, Issaquah Parks and Recreation Director Jeff Watling presented some of the staff findings on the work that went into finding a location the IFC could use and working on a lease agreement.
“That group presented a letter of interest to the city in June of last year really highlighting the elements, the framework of the business plan and specifically requesting a partnership with the city,” he said. “The city began exploring the use of a public building for them to have this program … The council then directed staff, through a prior agenda bill, to further explore the partnership and further explore specifically the opportunity for a city building to host this program.”
In looking for locations, staff prioritized city-owned buildings proximity to schools, program flexibility and readiness of the building space to move in. They decided upon the 235 building on First Avenue as it was being used as staff offices for the Parks and Recreation Department and storage space. However, the city had planned to move the staff out of that building before receiving the request, so the new vacancy was a perfect opportunity to offer the ITC.
The council was unanimous in their support for the lease agreement, with each council member talking about the positive impact a service like this will have on the community.
Jaech said that the next steps, submitting permits and working on plans with an architect for a small renovation, are already underway. She expects to hear back on the permits within the next months, which is also the time frame that city staff would be moving out of that office.
“The hope is we are open, with limited hours, in the summer so we can have tours for the community and parents,” she said. “Once school opens in September, we will have our grand opening.”