YMCA breaks ground for new teen center


Island officials gathered Tuesday at the YMCA of Martha’s Vineyard for a groundbreaking ceremony for the Alexandra Gagnon Teen Center.

The 5,000 square-foot, two-level addition at the east end of the Y building, which is off Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road and named for an Island woman who died in 1998, is to be completed early next summer.

Plans call for accordion-style partitions on the first floor to allow for individual program rooms or for a large open space for dances and special events. A full basement will house the Studio 57 state-of-the art music production studio Comcast sponsors for ninth to twelfth graders. The teen center space also will be used for current programs, such as the after-school program and for new ones planned for middle school-aged students.

Ms. Gagnon died at the age of 23, in 1998. Her parents, Jack and Marfi Gagnon, attended Tuesday’s groundbreaking ceremony with about a dozen YMCA staff and board members.

The Alexandra MM Gagnon Foundation, created by her family in 1998, provided a supplementary grant of more than $825,000 to support the teen center’s construction, with $750,000 designated for the building and the balance to be used for operating funds, according to a Y press release.

The Island-based private foundation supports the treatment and prevention of substance abuse and programs that encourage young people to meet and overcome challenges and build character and self-esteem.

“We’re happy to do what we are doing, and we’re happy to continue what we’re doing, and we will do so,” Mr. Gagnon said in brief remarks after the groundbreaking. “I can’t wait to see the teen center when it’s done, and I’ve offered to cook the first spaghetti dinner.”

Fundraising continues for the operations of the current and future teen center.

Although the teen center’s original design was a 2,200 square-foot space on one floor, with news of the available funding, the Y’s facilities committee figured out how to maximize the footprint and more than double the space by adding a basement.

The Y is due to receive another grant in January 2011, which will put the total received from the foundation at more than $1 million. The foundation and its donors also contributed more than $1.3 million in grants to other Island organizations this year, the press release said.

After a brief photo session on Tuesday outside the Y, in front of the teen center site, the groundbreaking attendees moved indoors to a room currently used as the teen center.

A framed photo of Alexandra Gagnon, with her dazzling smile, hangs on the wall. The poignant narrative that accompanies it tells of her talents and accomplishments as an avid sailor, swimmer, and skier, who summered on the Island.

YMCA board president William (“Bill”) L. Skinner officially thanked the Gagnons and the foundation on behalf of the Y. He reminded everyone that construction of the teen center and a gymnasium had been postponed until funds could be raised, and that thanks to the foundation’s generous donation, plans for the teen center will come to fruition sooner than anticipated.

The foundation also has provided financial assistance to the Y’s efforts for teens for the last five years, YMCA executive director Jill Robie pointed out.

“The efforts of Jack and Marfi and their foundation have allowed the Y to operate, even before we had a facility, and offer teen programs to probably over 80 to 100 teenagers we’ve already affected before we even open the doors,” she said.

The Alexandra Gagnon Teen Center first opened in February 2005 as part of the “Y Without Walls” before the new YMCA facility was built. The teen center operated for about five years at Cottagers Corner in Oak Bluffs, until the Y building opened last June.

Teen center director Tony Lombardi told the Gagnons that after decades of waiting, hoping and working towards a permanent facility for generations of Island teens, Tuesday’s groundbreaking was a dream come true.

“There aren’t words to describe the gift that your foundation and those who have donated to your foundation are providing to the future of this Island,” he said.

Mr. Lombardi also thanked superintendent of schools James Weiss, who is a new Y board member, and the Martha’s Vineyard Public Schools for their support of the Y.

A student advisory council of about 20 teens involved in Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School’s peer leadership program will provide input to Mr. Lombardi on the new teen center’s interior design and use.