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Fort Sill officials break ground for a new youth center April 5 near Fort Sill Boulevard and Upton Road. The new facility will feature a fitness center and serve twice the number of teens as the existing facility. It is at the site of the old movie theater, and expected to open in November.

FORT SILL, Okla. -- Installation officials broke ground April 5 for a new youth center that, when completed will feature a fitness center, and be able to handle twice the number of teens as the old facility, which was originally built as stables.

The center will be built near Fort Sill Boulevard and Upton Road, near Prichard Field, tennis courts and the Water-Spray Park. The facility is expected to open in November.

It's part of the Army's responsibility to set conditions that will help build military children's resiliency, said Col. Raymond Lacey, Garrison commander. "This building will set some of those conditions, and we're proud of the facility."

The center will service teens in grades seventh through 12th, said Brenda Spencer-Ragland, Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation director. The modern facility will have a stage for talent shows, dances and lock-ins; homework rooms, wireless Internet and a teen lounge, in addition to the fitness center.

A new youth center has been the No. 1 issue at Fort Sill Army Family Action Plan meetings the past several years, Spencer-Ragland said.

"There have been times during funding cuts, the youth center was looked at, but we've been able to hold strong," she said. "The command was incredible about recognizing the needs of the teens."

About 75 teens regularly use the current youth center, which is adjacent to the commissary, said Brooke Wilson, Youth Center director.

The biggest draw to the new facility will be the fitness center, she said.

"Right now we don't have a gym and a lot of kids just want to come out and play basketball and pickup games," she said.

The 15 members of the post's teen council offered suggestions to Spencer-Ragland on what they believed the new center needed, said Torrie Whatley, council president.

Some of the suggestions included a larger computer lab and certain video games, which will be implemented.

Between three and five more staff will be hired to work at the new center next fiscal year, joining the current 10, Wilson said.

After the new youth center opens, the old facility will continue to be used for Starbase Oklahoma and STARBASE 2.0, which are programs that expose students to the sciences, math and engineering, Spencer-Ragland said.

Bianca Barreto, 15, was at the groundbreaking. She has been going to the youth center since summer, and said she is looking forward to the new facility.

"I think it is going to be a lot more organized with much more to do, and not everyone just packed into one room," she said.

Page last updated Thu April 14th, 2011 at 16:30