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'A productive place to be': Plans for youth center at Cleveland School endorsed by community members

Olivia Marble
Community Action Lehigh Valley Executive Director Dawn Godshall, right, expects the project to take three to five years to complete.

  • Community Action Lehigh Valley hosted a community meeting about plans to build a new youth center
  • It would be located at the former Cleveland School on 9th Street
  • The center would be for youth ages six to 24 and would have a low cost to attend, with opportunities for scholarships

ALLENTOWN, Pa. — New details have emerged about a potential youth center in Allentown.

Local nonprofit Community Action Lehigh Valley (CALV) hosted a community meeting to discuss turning Allentown School District's former Cleveland School at 424 N. Ninth St. into a $20 million youth center.

About 30 people attended the meeting. After a brief introduction, the crowd was able to ask clarifying questions about the project.

Olivia Marble
Members of the community, including a group from Promise Neighborhoods Lehigh Valley, sit in the audience.

The nonprofit’s executive director, Dawn Godshall, said the youth center could help address high levels of gang violence and gun violence in the city.

“Most kids get in trouble between the hours of 3 and 6 p.m. and that's because they're waiting for their parents to get home,” Godshall said. “And then because we are facing an affordable housing crisis, parents are having to work two or three jobs.”

“We want to make sure that kids have a productive place to be and that at the end of the day, they can celebrate the fact that they learn something, that they are safe, that their parents know that they're safe.”

The idea of building a youth center came from another community meeting three years ago. CALV neighborhood partnership program, Allentown’s CORE, identified the Cleveland School as the best location for the center, said the program’s director Daniel Bosket.

But Bosket said the process of purchasing the building from the school district has been slow.

“One of the things that extended the timeline was the fact that the school district, during the period of time that we started the project, they had three different superintendents,” Bosket said.

“The school board's not going to sell an asset until they determine that the superintendent has had the opportunity to evaluate the asset.”

A room of people look up at a man in a suit presenting without slides.
Olivia Marble
Allentown’s Core Program Director Daniel Bosket addresses the crowd at the community center.

Bosket said Allentown’s CORE already runs programs that would be housed in the youth center.

The Allentown School Board in June approved selling the building to the nonprofit for $320,000. The nonprofit plans to raze the building and build a new one that fits with the character of the neighborhood.

CALV has an agreement of sale but has not yet officially bought the property. Godshall said she hopes that happens by the end of the month.

Godshall estimates the project will take three to five years.

What will the youth center be like?

Godshall said the center would likely serve youth ages six to 24, but that is subject to change. She said she would want there to be food available for kids, hopefully at no cost.

An estimated five to six full-time staff members and 16 to 32 part-time staff members would run the center.

“We don’t want cost to be a barrier."
Community Action Lehigh Valley Executive Director Dawn Godshall

Godshall said there would likely be some cost to attend, maybe $5 a month, but that there would be many opportunities for scholarships.

“We don’t want cost to be a barrier,” Godshall said.

Few people had concerns about the project. Some residents who lived near the building asked about potential traffic and parking impacts, but Godshall said this youth center would be catered to people in the nearby neighborhood.

Community activist Milagros Canales said some people at the Boys & Girls Club on Sixth Street had asked why another youth center was needed when theirs is nearby.

Godshall also said she hopes this building will have more modern technology, such as a gaming room that kids can access if they finish their homework.

Allentown’s Core member Rebecca Ramos lives near the Cleveland School. She said crossing Seventh Street was a deterrent for her to go to the Boys & Girls Club when she was growing up, and that this youth center would benefit her neighborhood.

“I know this would be a great opportunity for the community because it's what everyone needs,” Ramos said. “After-school programs are nice, but who wants to stay at the school? They go to school and they want to get out.”

“This can be another place for them to go to that's not school, but that’s like a school, but is welcoming.”