Kids give community centre facelift

From the outside, the East Scarborough Storefront looks like any other building on Lawrence Avenue East.  But inside, the yellow community centre is gearing up for changes.

It started last October when Jaime Elliott-Nguagi, coordinator of special projects, and others at Storefront began to recruit people to help redesign and expand the small centre. They turned to the people who knew the centre the best — the youth.

The group started with high school volunteers but soon changed.

“We had to lower the age,” said Elliott-Nguagi. “Now we have students in grade 7 and 8 because this is their second home and they really wanted to contribute.”

At the same time they had to raise the age limit, which now extends to youth under 30 because the response to the group was so overwhelming.

The youth worked in small teams with the Community Design Initiative, Design Exchange, and mentors from ArchiTEXT.

“We wanted to break down barriers to the more elite professions like architecture,” Storefront director Anne Gloger. “Kids from this community don’t think of that as a career to go into, and we are hoping to break down those barriers.”

Together they worked to redesign the existing 17,000-square foot building. Approximately 4,000 to 8,000 square feet will be added.

The final design was chosen on Jan. 26, in a community meeting where voters chose elements from presentations they liked the best.

“Everything will be multipurpose to facilitate the resources we bring into the community,” Gloger said.

To meet the growing demand from the high-priority neighbourhood, the computer lab, kitchen, office space and resource centre will all be expanded.

The Storefront was founded in 2001 in the Morningside Mall and moved into the former 42 Division substation in 2006 after the mall closed. The centre doesn’t record visitors but they estimate their services have been used more than 55,000 times last year and the number increases yearly.

All the more reason for the expansion.

“Storefront is the place you come to if you need the answer to a question,” said Elliott-Nguagi. “If Storefront doesn’t actually provide the service itself we know who to send you to.”

Construction is scheduled to be finished in 2011.