Matt Perkins has spent hundreds of hours at the Community Bicycle Center in the past five years, but he’s excited to get out.
The 15-year-old from Biddeford isn’t cutting ties to the bicycle workshop, just cheering its move into a larger, brighter and more modern space.
“I’m really excited,” Perkins said Friday afternoon. “I’m working in the shop today and everyone’s in my armpits. There’s not enough space to do anything.”
After completing a successful fundraising campaign, the Community Bicycle Center, a nonprofit program that serves hundreds of Biddeford youths each year, will move into its new home by September. The new location will allow for more programs and – more important – more space for kids to build and tune up bicycles while working with the center’s staff and volunteers.
The center raised $476,466 to buy and renovate a permanent home for the center at 45 Granite St. in Biddeford. Andy Greif, executive director of the bike center, completed the purchase of the 4,200-square-foot building for $249,900 in April. Since then, the space has been renovated and updated, with much of the work done by contractors who donated their time or supplies.
A separate $25,000 endowment was established for building maintenance.
“We’re all pretty darn excited about getting into a space that’s quadruple what we’ve been working in,” said Andrew Burnell, the center’s volunteer and program director.
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. It has always been a tight squeeze, but as more kids found their way to the center and the staff added new programs, the need for more space became more pronounced.
“(The kids) are just excited we’re going to have space and room to move around. One of the kids, when she found out this was going to happen, she started shaking and asked if she could hug me,” Greif said. “All of our work is relationship-based. It’s not about the facility, but having a more efficient facility can enhance what you do.”
The Community Bicycle Center 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 take part in the 180-mile Trek Across Maine.
The program has served more than 1,100 children since its inception eight years ago. 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 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 bike center 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.
The new buildings will include a metal fabrication and welding lab for youth programs and for seminars and classes for adult community members.
Greif is particularly excited about providing program participants more access to the outdoors. The Granite Street location includes a former granite quarry with a clearing he said would be perfect for camping. There are also trails that will allow staff and volunteers to teach kids mountain biking skills. The trail behind the new CBC building connects to Clifford Park, which has more than 140 acres and a network of trails.
One volunteer has been hard at work clearing out brush to make a better space for those lessons, Greif said.
“We’re so excited about being able to challenge kids with new things,” he said.
Greif said he expects the program to be operating in its new location by early September. An open house celebration is planned for Sept. 20.