BIDDEFORD — Students and volunteers were just starting to trickle into the Community Bicycle Center to work on their bikes after school, but already the workshop felt cramped.
With four bikes on racks and kids and volunteers moving back and forth to pick out tools, there was little room for Andy Greif to thread his way through the room.
“We’ve got so much jammed into this small space,” said Greif, executive director of the nonprofit drop-in workshop for Biddeford area youths. “We’re always in each other’s space.”
That problem is about to be eliminated as the unusual and popular program moves from a donated workshop to a building with four times as much space to work on and store bicycles and six acres adjacent to a large city park – lots of room for kids to ride. This week Greif expects to complete the purchase of the 4,200-square-foot building at 45 Granite St. for $249,900.
For the past eight years, the Community Bicycle Center has operated out of a 1,125-square-foot city-owned garage space on Hill Street. But as more kids find their way into the center and as its staff expands programming, the need for more space has become more pronounced.
“Sometimes you have to suck in your gut to let people by,” Cameron Roy, 12, said of a narrow hallway lined on one side with a workbench and on the other with hooks for jackets and backpacks.
The CBC provides free enrichment opportunities for children through bicycling-related activities. Participants – many as young as 9 or 10 – learn how to repair and build bikes, go on group rides, make art with bicycle parts and work closely with volunteers and other adults in the community. Some participants train and raise money to participate in the 180-mile Trek Across Maine.
The program has served more than 1,100 children since its inception. Last year, 341 kids came into the center at least once. Half of them came back at least twice and about 30 percent attend far more often. Most participants are between 11 and 14, Greif said.
The CBC capital campaign has already raised more than $320,000 to buy and fix up the building, but another $142,000 is still needed to complete the renovation. An anonymous donor had pledged to donate $10,000 if the center receives the same amount in donations. A separate $25,000 endowment has been established for building maintenance.
The new location is within walking distance of the city’s highest concentration of low-to-moderate income neighborhoods, where many program participants live. The goal of the CBC is to offer low-barrier access to programs, and the staff and participants are full of ideas about how to add activities to draw in more kids.
“As you increase the diversity of programs, more kids will come in and they will come in more frequently,” Greif said.
While the move into a building formerly occupied by a cabinetmaker will provide much-needed space, Greif said it will also allow the CBC to expand its program to include older teens and adults. For example, the new buildings will include a metal fabrication and welding lab for youth programs and for seminars and classes for adult community members.
The Community Bicycle Center also plans to launch a membership program to provide adults and businesses benefits such as bike maintenance courses, discounts on repairs, and access to the metal fabrication lab and shop space for personal use. Greif said CBC would also like to partner with other nonprofits and leverage more volunteer support.
The land behind 45 Granite St. also provides a unique and exciting opportunity for kids who live in urban neighborhoods without backyards. A clearing near what was once a granite quarry would be a great spot for camping and the wooded trails provide an opportunity to practice mountain biking skills, Greif said. The trail behind the new CBC building connects to Clifford Park, which has more than 140 acres and a network of trails.
“We’ll be able to connect kids more to the natural environment,” he said.
The kids who drop in to the bike center are just as excited about the move as Greif. After years of working elbow-to-elbow with their peers, they say they are looking forward to spreading out.
Cameron, the 12-year-old, said he is looking forward to having more space and to mountain biking behind the new center.
“It’s definitely a fixer-upper, but it’s really roomy,” he said.
“It’s definitely an upgrade,” agreed Tom Teague, a 15-year-old Saco resident who has been going to the CBC for about five years. He sees the new space as a way to strengthen the program. “It’s a fun place to come and hang out. There aren’t many places like this.”
While there is still money to raise, the CBC kids are already focused on the big move into the new building in July. They already figured out the exact number of people it would take to make a human chain to shuttle bike parts from one building to the other: 1,056.
Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at: