York County Commissioners have approved up to $1.5 million in funding to help renovate the former St. Andre Church on Bacon Street in Biddeford into My Place Teen Center. The center still has to raise some funds and in-kind support for the project. It is projected to open in 2023 and serve kids 10-18 from around the region. Tammy Wells Photo

BIDDEFORD — The quest to bring My Place Teen Center to Biddeford took a giant leap forward Wednesday, with a unanimous vote by York County Commissioners to approve up to $1.5 million in American Rescue Plan funds for the project.

The center will be located at 75 Bacon St.  — in the former St. Andre Church, now owned by Biddeford Housing Authority — and is modeled after My Place Teen Center in Westbrook.

“After four years of extreme arduousness, we are beyond ecstatic,” said My Place Teen Center President and CEO Donna Dwyer on Thursday.

The new center, which is expected to open in 2023, she said, is projected to serve 70-100 young people, aged 10-18, from Biddeford and the surrounding area each weekday, and serve about 9,000 meals a year.

My Place Teen Center offers an oasis to kids, and “instills grit” through character development, academic support, mentoring, civic engagement, and life skills, according to information provided by the center. Programs offered include a youth leadership academy, a restaurant job training program, and two others: Get Urban Kids Outside! and Making Personal Choices. All programs and services offered at My Place Teen Center are free.

In a letter supporting the project, Biddeford Mayor Alan Casavant noted the city has several programs aimed at youth, but that still, too many young people fall between the cracks.

“My fear, and the fear of councilors, is that there are too many teens in my city who have no supervision after schools, as parents are working or, sadly, ‘not engaged,'” he said.

The $1.5 million injection will be coupled with some existing money, leaving about $200,000 to $250,000 in funds and about $650,000 of in-kind support to be raised.

The money will fund building renovations, projected to total about $2.7 million.

Commissioner Richard Clark moved to award up to $1.5 million to the My Place Teen Center project. “I’m confident they’ll do a good job,” said Clark. “I am impressed by their proposal. (It will) serve a need … for kids in general and kids in trouble.”

The motion was seconded by Commissioner Robert Andrews, and the vote was unanimous.

All the county commissioners toured My Place Teen Center in Westbrook individually or in pairs within the last month.

Dwyer said there had been a lot of “ups and downs” with fundraising for the project since the idea to bring My Place Teen Center to Biddeford first surfaced four years ago.

“We got a lot of ‘no’s,'” said Dwyer.

Some however, have been early supporters, said Dwyer, noting the Virginia Hodgkins Somers Foundation, Saco and Biddeford Savings Institution, Davis Family Foundation, the Stephen and Tabitha King Foundation, Biddeford Savings and Northeast Delta Dental.

“This is the lynchpin that makes the project viable,” said Dwyer of the county ARP funding.

She also pointed out the project still needs the in-kind goodwill of the community.

“We hope to make it a community project,” said Biddeford Housing Authority Director Guy Gagnon. “Having this funding makes it real.”

The old church was part of a package of properties purchased by Biddeford Housing Authority in 2014. Gagnon said BHA and My Place Teen Center will share ownership of the former St. Andre’s. Church. He said BHA is considering housing and other options for the basement of the property.

In May, My Place Teen Center secured funding for programs in the Biddeford-Saco area for youth aged 14–18, and is temporarily located in the Saco Valley Shopping Center.

County commissioners held public hearings in June, seeking input from residents and organizations on how to spend the $40 million in American Rescue Plan funding the county government was awarded. In all, the commissioners received 35 suggestions totaling $50 million. Workshops seeking more information on a number of the projects have been held and others are scheduled. County Manager Greg Zinser said so far, the county has approved about $900,000 in engineering and planning for various county projects under consideration for funding; $2.7 million in premium pay for employees; $12,000 for a vestibule in the York County Registry of Deed offices, and $255,000 for fund management. More information is available at: https://www.yorkcountymaine.gov/general-6

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