Years of work pay off in opening of Key Peninsula’s only after-school center

Peter Hedin wondered nearly a decade ago if children would come if the community built a safe place for them to hang out.

Years of building support and a generous donation later, the Red Barn Youth Center opened its doors to parents and children from Peninsula Middle School Tuesday evening to showcase the Key Peninsula’s only after-school facility.

“It is a good feeling,” said Hedin, the soft-spoken president of the youth center board. “At times the process got a bit tedious. But now it’s cool.”

A beaming Olivia Gehrke, 11, agreed wholeheartedly.

“I expected a place with a bunch of teachers,” Gehrke said. “It’s cool. You get to play a bunch of games.”

Wednesday (Aug. 27), parents and students from Peninsula High School will take their turn, trying out the pool, foosball and table hockey games and taking a tour of a back room that will one day house a basketball court and performance stage.

The youth center officially opens Sept. 3, the first day of school for the Peninsula School District.

Getting the facility into working shape took years of herding community groups, raising more than $200,000, working with Pierce County on getting the proper permits and mobilizing an army of volunteers to help clean up the place, Hedin said.

"There was a lot we had to overcome to get the building up to code," Hedin said. "This place didn’t obviously look like this before."

Tuesday night, dozens of children lined up for hotdogs and coleslaw at the 4,650-square foot facility a short walk from Key Center.

“It has taken a long time to get here, but we’ve arrived,” said Glen Ehrhardt, a member of the Red Barn board.

The journey began in 2004 when congregants at Waypoint Church asked the community for help building a safe place for children, according to Red Barn board member Doug Paterson.

“Because the kids have nothing to do,” Paterson said, “they get in trouble. They’ll tell you that. They do.”

According to Hedin, members of the church worked with members of other churches "pooling their resources."

Hedin said the Red Barn board has plans to expand the use of the facility, eventually giving other organizations like 4-H clubs a venue to meet.

"Of course the main focus is the youth," he said. "But we want to make maximum use of it."

George Russell, who built Russell Investments, leased the property to the group for $1 dollar a year, jumpstarting their quest, Paterson said. The lease has since been modified to $50 a month and includes the maintenance of the building.

The Russells were kind, Hedin said, but they also told the group: "We’re not just going to pay for all of this, you need to get community support."

Hedin said the bulk of the cost of getting the center opened was paid for by local donors.

Asked how many children he hopes to see use the center, Ehrhardt said, “I hope too many.”