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Just for kids

Oak Harbor’s newest address would fit nicely in Seattle’s most modern neighborhoods. A description of the building reads like an article in “Architectural Digest.”

The $3.6 million Navy-funded edifice sports trendy dropped ceilings and floors carry patterned linoleum — the floor covering of choice made by with-it decorators. Certain rooms possess few right angles. Curving walls creating oblique — or obtuse — angles are all the rage. Skylights and windows at every elevation capture the most fragile winter sunbeams. And woven shades descend with a whisper to block gloom or blistering sun. Walls and ceiling undulations in brilliant red, beiged yellow, gray and black provide a vibrant but harmonious color scheme. From the front door, views of Crescent Harbor and Polnell Point grab attention.

But people using the structure probably don’t appreciate the finer design elements.

Kids at the new Youth Activities Center at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station revel in the building’s 12,000-square-feet filled with technology and gadgets along with plenty of room to race around indoors and out. In addition to computers for Internet surfing and playing games, a 13-computer study room gives kids a quiet spot to finish homework and study.

“It’s light years away from the old center,” Master Chief Petty Officer Dave Thomason said as he collected 13-year-old twins Matt and Chris Thomason.

“It shows a real commitment to kids.”

“It’s a magnificent place,” young Matt interjected.

Since Nov. 1, the center has been open after school and on weekends. It’s a bit premature for kids to have a favorite area, but every kid notices the space.

“The old center was teeny,” Cassie Lantz, 12, said as she admired a friend’s skill manipulating a video game broadcast on a big screen TV.

The new center replaces a 3,948-square-foot 1940s vintage building on Regatta Drive that could accommodate 75 kids. The new center will serve 300 easily.

“We had to be creative with space (in the old building),” Youth Center Director Melissa Haley said. The former nurses’ barracks didn’t have room for frills.

“Now the possibilities of what we can offer kids are endless,” she said.

Haley hopes to increase the number of enrichment programs for all kids in kindergarten through high school. With the extra room and equipment, Haley said a youth gymnastics program as well as cooking and craft clubs can form. An already-popular group maintains a garden at the Regatta Drive center. At Coupeville’s Harvest Fest in October, the club’s pumpkin garnered the “ugliest pumpkin” award. Master Gardeners have scouted areas past the playground and basketball court and hope to move the garden soon.

“Kids really love the garden,” Haley said.

The center’s open recreation times after school are for kids in grades six through 12, Haley said. And the center isn’t restricted to Navy kids. It’s open to everyone, Haley said.

Fridays, middle schoolers can congregate from 8 p.m. to midnight. Saturday nights, high schoolers can hang out from 7 p.m. to midnight. Kids can sign themselves in and out of the center, so it’s more appropriate for teens, Haley explained.

“We’re broadening our focus with activities for grades 6 through 12,” she said.

But the center’s not restricted to only those grades. Younger kids are welcome to join clubs, like 4-H and other programs that meet at the center.

By Dec. 6, before and after School Age Care programs for kids attending Olympic View, Clover Valley and Crescent Harbor elementary schools will move to the center. This program for ages kindergarten through fifth grade provides safe, structured places for kids too young to stay at home alone while parents work or attend school. Separate areas for these ages have as many amenities as the common areas. Rooms with furniture sized for smaller bodies have decorating schemes. There’s the bug room, with oversized ladybugs to lounge on and the pond room with a frog-theme. Older kids get get a rainforest room and an around-the-world room.

Haley and Youth Center Manager Linda Jury said a special area of the center is just for kids in high school. More than three years ago when the project was first being discussed, kids were surveyed for their ideas and teens’ ideas were particularly sought.

“We kept hearing teens say they wanted a place of their own,” Haley said.

The new teen room has what every teen-ager covets — a door to shut. Inside, cushy but still cutting-edge chairs and benches invite teens to lounge in front of their own TV. Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society donated $1,000 for a jukebox with teen-selected tunes. A pool table and foosball set-up plus Play Stations and two computers will give teens plenty to do while escaping the younger crowd.

So far, the door doesn’t seem to be closed much. There’s too much action taking place to shut anything out.

Monday during open recreation time after school, kids and center staff caromed a volleyball around the gym. No one worried over shattered light bulbs or dented vents with the room’s high ceilings and recessed light and other fixtures. Soon a climbing wall will highlight one wall.

Jeanine Unpingco, 12, and Jordan Faralan, 10, concentrated on Monopoly strategy with staff member Alicia Groberg.

Boys ricocheted from pool table to air hockey to the covered outdoor basketball court.

With all the movement in and between rooms, it’s easy to imagine staff would have difficulty keeping track of everyone. Haley and Jury said at least one staff member is in each room with the kids. The center’s open design and large windows allow staff to monitor the to-ing and fro-ing, they added. And they’ve rearranged furniture and fittings so adults can glance at the study room’s computer monitors discreetly.

“We noticed a blind spot, so we’re shifting study carrels and computers,” Jury said.

While the Youth Activities Center sits on Navy property, it’s open to all kids.

“We’re open to every kid in the community, Haley said.

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