The Portland Community Squash Center’s planned expansion would make the at 66 Noyes St. facility more of a hub for the community. The center offers squash lessons, wellness classes, summer camps and academic help for students, but through the expansion would be able to offer more programming for adults. Michael Kelley / The Forecaster

During the week, the Portland Community Squash Center is abuzz with activity ranging from youth squash lessons on one side of the building to academic support, wellness classes and other programming on the other. Four years after opening in the former home of Congregation Shaarey Tphiloh on Noyes Street and providing programs for hundreds of students in greater Portland, the center looks to expand to become more of a hub for the community.

Under proposed expansion plans, the green space in front of the Portland Community Squash Center would be filled in to provide a event and meeting space for adults and the side parking lot would be turned into two more squash courts. Contributed / Portland Community Squash Center

“The youth programs are our foundation,” said Senior Executive Director Barrett Takesian. “The kids are always calling this their second home. Now we want to finish the job and have this be a second home for the community.”

The expansion would include two additional squash courts in the existing parking lot and an addition to the front of the building for a cafe, community kitchen and space to hold meetings, lectures, potlucks or open mike nights.

“Every great community center has a social space and that is what we hope to add with this,” Takesian said.

The project’s cost hasn’t been determined yet. Plans are being worked on now and Takesian hopes to have a final design by spring. Fundraising would begin in 2022 and construction in 2023, and the new spaces opened by 2024. The work would not impact existing programming, he said, and as much of the original building will be preserved as possible.

Pat Will, right, serves during an Aug. 6 game with Paul French, Portland Community Squash’s senior squash director. Michael Kelley / The Forecaster

Public input, he said, will largely drive the ultimate design.

“Before we go out and acquire funding, we hope to engage with as many individuals as we can from our families, neighborhood and community,” Takesian said.

Baqer Jalil, a junior at Casco Bay High School who has been participating in the center’s programming since he was a freshman, said the center “is a family to me.” A member of the expansion design committee, Jalil said he has been able to learn not just about squash, but more about himself and others.

Portland Community Squash got its start in 2013, providing lessons at the Portland YMCA. By 2014, it also began offering academic help to players. Two years later it  bought the former synagogue, renovated it for $1.5 million and opened in January 2017.

The center has continued to grow its programming. After it was forced last year to suspend after-school recreation and academic programs because of the pandemic, it shifted its focus to an advisory program aimed at maintaining relationships. Each staff member was paired with 12 families to offer wellness check-ins and remote academic help. The center also launched Rally Portland Academy to provide 40 students a full day of on-site squash, academic support and wellness on their remote learning days.

Takesian said the expansion will meet the needs of the organization as it continues to grow. The center provides programming to 200 students and connects with 225 families through annual memberships.

“We know this is where we want to be for a long time. When we first started, we were making 10- year investments to get off the ground. Now we are looking at making 50-year investments because the relationship with the neighborhood is really strong and this site is the perfect place for us to be,” he said.

Jocelyne Peace, whose three children have taken part in Portland Community Squash Center programs, sees the new proposed community space as a way for  parents to connect and get to know each other.

“We could enjoy this, too. We need it,” she said.

Under proposed expansion plans, the green space in front of the Portland Community Squash Center would be filled in to provide a event and meeting space for adults and the side parking lot would be turned into two more squash courts. Contributed / Portland Community Squash Center

 

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