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Nonprofit spearheading creation of large youth center with development

Daily Inter Lake | May 18, 2022 1:00 AM

Aiming to provide year-round access to athletic, arts and other enrichment programs, a new youth center is the centerpiece of a larger commercial and housing development planned for the north end of Kalispell.

The Flathead Valley Youth Center nonprofit is behind the effort to create a publicly accessible youth center planned for Church Drive just off U.S. 93 south of Majestic Valley Arena. Organizers say the center would provide children and teens access to several programs.

Tawnya Bingham, board president of the nonprofit, says the goal is to build a space where the community’s youth can play, grow, learn and connect through sports, arts and social interaction.

“We began talking about this for two years realizing what the valley really needs is a safe place for youth that helps them empower themselves,” she said. “The youth center is envisioned as an inviting place where any kid is welcome, and every kid belongs.”

The youth center is planned to be about 140,000 square feet in size and constructed with a Montana farm aesthetic. The center is expected to house a full-size turf field for lacrosse, soccer and other field sports; plus, four sports courts for basketball and volleyball. Locker rooms and team stretching rooms are also included in the design.

“We see this as a community center open to all,” Bingham said. “We have spaces dedicated to studying and a hangout area. We want this to be a place where youth can come find a second family. Athletics and arts are humongous here so that’s a focus, but we also want it to be a place where a kid can find their special talent. We see it as a place to host summer workshops and after-school programs.”

Bingham describes the location between Kalispell and Whitefish as a benefit, making it a hub for the Flathead Valley as a whole.

The youth center is estimated to cost $30 million, and fundraising efforts are looking to seek donations that could create scholarships for youth wanting to participate in programs.

Based on fundraising, the goal is to break ground on the youth center this summer.

PART OF a larger 40-acre development project called the Farm District, the youth center is at the center of the plan that calls for commercial development and has the potential for 102 residential units.

Bingham said the goal is to see the commercial space include businesses that would provide a benefit to the youth and families utilizing the youth center, such as a yoga or dance studio, or an ice cream or coffee shop.

“We’ve created a layout that is based on walkable space,” she said. “We wanted parents to be able to stop and grab a burger and feel safe that one kid can walk to the art annex and maybe another can walk to the lacrosse field.”

While planning is still ongoing for how the housing will look, the goal is to target workforce affordable housing.

“We’re concerned about the lack of workforce housing that’s why it was important for us to include a section for housing to do what we can for that,” she said. “We’re still working on details, but we want to ensure that the housing is guaranteed for locals.”

The Kalispell Planning Board last week voted to recommend several requests regarding the property — annexation and initial zoning of B-2 general business with a commercial planned unit development overlay. The project is set to go before City Council on June 6.

Bingham and her husband Kelcey are the owners of Bear Mountain Builders. While they are using their expertise in the building industry to bring the project through the necessary designing and planning phases, Bingham notes that the nonprofit is spearheading the project.

THE PLAN for the youth center calls for “partner spaces” that would provide available space for local nonprofits to utilize in working with youth. Ongoing discussions with a variety of organizations and nonprofits look to bring in more services for youths at the center.

“The one thing we didn’t want to do was to take away from another nonprofit,” Bingham said. “We wanted to be as all encompassing as possible with all the other nonprofits that have a focus on youth.”

One of those nonprofits, the Nate Chute Foundation, provides a number of programs dedicated to suicide prevention in Western Montana.

“We are very excited for our community to have a location that provides a safe place for the youth of our valley to connect and cultivate resilience,” Kacy Howard, Director of the Nate Chute Foundation.

Looking to the future, organizers envision additions to possibly include an elevated running track, golf simulators, and an outdoor obstacle and ropes course.

In addition to Tawnya and Kelcey Bingham, Tagen Vine also serves on the nonprofit's board. An advisory committee comprised of Ryan Purdy, Kacy Howard, Andre Burba and Missy Jonson is also assisting.

The land for the facility has been committed as a donation.

The building concept design fee was donated by Cushing Terrell Architects. Swank Enterprises is leading the construction efforts with the company committing an in-kind donation of the profit that would have come from the project.

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