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The Boston Globe

West

Brookline Teen Center opening next week

For years, teens like 15-year-old Daniel Attia have said Brookline doesn’t have much to offer students after school.

“We don’t really have anything to do here,” the Brookline High School sophomore said.

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But after eight years of planning, fund-raising, and construction, some people in town, including Attia, hope that is about to change.

On Sunday, from 2 to 5 p.m., the Brookline Teen Center will host a grand opening for the community, and the next day it will begin opening its doors to high school students on weekday afternoons and evenings and Saturdays.

The creation of the $3.7 million facility, paid for entirely through private fund-raising, was overseen by a Brookline High social worker, Paul Epstein. The idea originated around 2005, and since then Epstein and other organizers kept teens closely involved in the process at every step of the way. Even Epstein’s twin brother Theo, the former Red Sox general manager, helped with the fund-raising.

What they have created out of a 1930s-era automobile repair shop at 40 Aspinwall Ave. in Brookline Village could capture the attention of even the most apathetic teen.

Everything from a café to a recording studio, candlepin bowling lanes, Wi-Fi, and a computer-stocked academic mezzanine will be used to entice teens into making the 10-minute walk from the high school to the center each day after classes.

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“I think it’s phenomenal,” Paul Epstein said of the new space. “Words can’t describe the level of excitement.”

The renovation of the old garage began last October with work that included building an elevator, uncovering old skylights, and incorporating design elements and art by local teenagers, including a mural.

The project was mostly completed in June, and the center holds a 25-year lease on the space, according to the nonprofit organization’s executive director, Matthew Cooney.

Some of the signature parts of the old garage have been kept, such as a large door next to the café that can be opened on nice days, and a few yellow lines that used to mark parking spots now decorate the floor.

Replacing the parked cars will be a center bustling with activity inside a new gym, a studio for yoga and aerobics, a game room, a classroom, a small stage, and a social recreation room with pool and foosball tables.

This summer, Cooney said, the center brought in 30 Brookline High students as interns to help make sure everything is ready.

“Teens have been involved since the get-go,” he said.

Attia and Tate Mitchell, a 16-year-old junior at Brookline High, were among the interns who pitched in on the preparations, from picking the paint colors to helping design the center’s website.

“I feel like this is really a teen-built center, and I feel really lucky to be able to have been a part of it because it’s going to be part of Brookline for generations,” said Mitchell.

Attia said he was still in elementary school when he first heard about the teen center and decided to get involved. He has become a tech guru for the center, and during the summer internship he enjoyed the center’s candlepin bowling, and the chances he had to climb into a loft where he could serve as a DJ playing music for everyone in the gym.

Cooney, a 1991 graduate of Brookline High with a background in social work, said he sees an unlimited number of courses and activities that can be offered at the center, and one of the challenges will be deciding where the facility should put its focus. He said he would like to offer a leadership program every year, and he imagines classroom space being used for a variety of subjects including SAT preparatory courses.

Students also continue to float new ideas, he said, including a proposal to invite politicians to hold office hours at the center and give teens a peek into the legislative process.

“Part of the power of the place is being able to expose kids to new opportunities,” Cooney said.

This fall teens can use the center for free, but beginning in January there will be an annual $200 membership fee. However, Cooney said, students who can’t afford the fee won’t be turned away.

The center will need to continue raising funds, and will also be seeking donations of time from people in the community, he said.

Local officials are being invited to join the grand opening ceremony on Sunday, and US Representative Joe Kennedy and fellow Brookline resident and former governor Mike Dukakis are expected to attend, said Gwen Ossenfort, the center’s director of operations and Mitchell’s mother. Food trucks will also be parked in front of the center, and a raffle will be held during the festivities.

But as opening day nears, the center’s staff members don’t know how many kids to expect in the first weeks and months. Cooney said he’s hoping for more than 300 to start.

Ossenfort said eventually the center could be serving almost the entire high school student body.

“We’re basically launching a huge business with the potential of having 2,000 clients,” she said.

Mitchell predicts that students will make friends at the center outside of their usual high school circles.

“I’m most excited about the real change it’s going to have for the town because we don’t really have anything like this in Brookline other than like Panera, where teens go to hang out,” Mitchell said.

Brock Parker can be reached at brock.globe@gmail.com.

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