While fundraising to transform the main floor of the former St. Andre Church in Biddeford into My Place Teen Center continues, the teen center has leased temporary quarters at Saco Valley Shopping Center in Saco. Dina Mendros Photo

SACO — Later this month, teens 14 to 18 years old will be able to stop by My Place Teen Center at Saco Valley Shopping Center to have fun, learn a bit, and have supper.

My Place Teen Center still plans to move into the former St. Andre Church in Biddeford, as announced in the fall of 2019, but significant fundraising is needed to renovate and bring the old building up to code, said My Place Teen Center President Donna Dwyer.

“It’s still the plan, to move into St. Andre’s,” said Dwyer by phone from Westbrook, where the first My Place Teen Center was created more than 20 years ago.

In the meantime, she said, My Place Teen Center has secured funding for programs in the Biddeford-Saco area for 14 to 18 year olds, and has found space in a former bank in the Saco shopping center.

“We started doing some renovations in early April, and in early May, we’ll be up and running and open to teens in the area,” she said. The center will be open afternoons, four hours a day, Monday through Thursday. “Teens (attending) may be from anywhere — Biddeford, Saco, Arundel, it doesn’t matter.”

The teen center will offer a mix of fun, learning and food.

“We focus on character development, life skills, academic support and a lot of fun,” said Dwyer, “It’s a safe place to be, after school and during the summer.”

Life skills can mean learning financial literacy, and more, such as how to “be proud, be responsible, understand the dangers cyber bullying, how to write a check,” said Dwyer.

The temporary quarters won’t sport a commercial kitchen, so food will be prepared at the Westbrook site and brought to Saco, said Dwyer.

My Place Teen Center has signed an 18-month lease for space at Saco Valley Shopping Center.

St. Andre Church in Biddeford, vacant since 2011, remains poised to become the home of My Place Teen Center but the center will be temporarily located at Saco Valley Shopping Center in Saco. Here, a group gathered at the church in November 2019, to hear about plans for a teen center. Fundraising, sidelined during the pandemic, is restarting. Tammy Wells Photo

“The road to Biddeford is contingent on raising adequate funding,” to renovate the former St. Andre Church, which Dwyer said is in considerable disrepair. “The pandemic put a halt on fundraising for a year, and we’re reinvigorating that now.”

An  initial $500,000 goal is earmarked for necessary life safety fixes, like a sprinkler system upgrade, alarms, accessibility, plumbing and electrical, and more, say Dwyer and Biddeford Housing Authority Director Guy Gagnon.

BHA purchased the St. Andre property, which includes the St. Andre Church building, convent, school and rectory in 2014 and created apartment units in two of the structures.

After the life safety issues are resolved at the former church building, which was started in 1899 and completed in 1910, My Place Teen Center would need another $500,000, “for everything else,” Dwyer estimated, which includes painting, rugs, furniture and fixtures and a commercial kitchen.

Dwyer said the figures include in-kind support — donations of materials or supplying them at cost, for example, or donating labor.

“Maybe in all, a $2 million project can be a $1 million project, with in-kind support,” said Dwyer, pointing out the former church “needs a lot of TLC.”

Local businessman Jim Godbout has volunteered to be project manager, said Dwyer, once the initial funds are in place.

My Place Teen Center would be on the main floor of the former church building, and Gagnon said apartments are being eyed for the lower level; plans are in the preliminary stages. The lower level is where the church hosted functions and has 15-foot ceilings, Gagnon noted.

In the meantime, as fundraising continues, young people will be able to go to My Place Teen Center at the shopping center.

“We know Biddeford is a very generous community and we’re hoping an entity or individual will partner with us on the financial side of things,” said Dwyer. As well, she’s looking into whether the federal American Rescue Plan might offer some financial assistance to the St. Andre project.

She’s hoping the initial fundraising will be complete in four to six months so work can start on the Biddeford site.

Gagnon too, pointed to the generous spirit in the community and said he’s “1,000 percent confident,” the project will have what it needs to move forward.

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