Paul Steven Ghiringhelli
Fort Drum teens have a new hangout likely to make the most dignified of parents crazy with jealousy.
The grand opening of an impressive 25,000-square-foot Youth Center on Chapel Drive took place Friday to the unrestrained oohs and ahhs of parents, post officials and guests.
"This is truly a state-of-the-art facility with a great design," said Col. Gary A. Rosenberg, Fort Drum garrison commander.
Every nook of the ultra-modern facility offers teens something worth exploring, from pool, foosball and board games in the lounge area, to a huge gym, rock climbing wall and fully equipped demo kitchen, to an art studio, interactive game room and even a sound-proof music room, where aspiring musicians can record their own CDs.
A multimillion-dollar BMX dirt track behind the facility is expected to open in the spring.
The new center, which conducted a soft opening in mid-October, replaces the aging Youth Center next door.
Open weekdays after school and from noon to 9 p.m. on Saturdays, it offers students in grades six to 12 not only a location to engage in interesting activities but also a good place to do homework.
For Elizabeth Kolodgy, 17-year-old daughter of 1st Sgt. John Kolodgy of the 10th Combat Aviation Brigade, the new Child, Youth and School Services facility represents elements of her own efforts.
"I have been here a long time, and I have seen several facilities in CYSS being built or renovated to make life better for us," said Kolodgy, guest speaker at the ribbon-cutting ceremony. "I am grateful that I am still here to see the construction of the new Youth Center."
Before introducing Kolodgy, Rosenberg explained the $8.2 million project to visitors, noting how the new CYSS center dovetails with installation concepts of staff-sharing and "complexing," an award-winning practice at Fort Drum involving the clustering of facilities.
He said an additional $500,000 went to furnishing the facility, which can accommodate up to 150 youths.
Over the last decade, post officials have been intentional about developing CYSS programs and renovating facilities to keep pace with growth.
As the demand for child care, particularly with parents of younger children, has more than doubled here, the rate of availability at Fort Drum continues to exceed U.S. Army standards.
In the last two years alone, the installation has added two child development centers, one on Po Valley Road in 2010 and another on South Riva Ridge Loop last year. In addition, the Memorial CDC has been completely renovated, while Chapel Drive CDC renovations are expected to be completed in January.
The old Youth Center will be converted into a dedicated Youth Sports facility and classrooms for the Youth SKIES Unlimited program, which teach students everything from sewing and cooking to gymnastics and taekwondo.
Kolodgy, a 2012 Fort Drum Youth of the Year runner-up, said that ever since she was old enough to attend youth programs, she has been a member of teen leadership councils to improve quality-of-life activities on post.
To her peers, she stressed the importance of being a voice and playing a leadership role at the center to ensure their needs are met.
"From my experience, I can tell you that the staff at the Youth Center, the (Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation) director and the staff from the garrison commander care (about) what we want and will listen to us if we only speak up," she said. "But they
cannot fulfill a need that they don't know."
Last year, Kolodgy spent four days in Lake Placid along with 16 other CYSS youths to develop a consensus of what they valued most and what they would like to see in the new facility. Organized by Steve Ferguson, Youth Center director, the trip culminated with teens briefing the garrison commander and Hal Greer, FMWR director.
"Some of the things you will see in this building are due to the command listening to us," Kolodgy said.
After the teen's remarks, Maj. Gen. Mark A. Milley, Fort Drum and 10th Mountain Division (LI) commander, and his wife, Hollyanne, were invited to the front to cut the yellow ribbon.
Teens then provided attendees with a tour of the new facility, followed by refreshments.
Parents may register youths with CYSS by contacting Parent Outreach Services at 772-8675.