Outback Proposes that Town ‘Repurpose,’ Take Over Teen Center for Estimated $83,000 Annually


The town could assume the costs and day-to-day operation of Outback Teen Center for an estimated $83,000 per year, under a new proposal from the nonprofit organization’s board of directors.

Under a proposed three-year trial, the New Canaan Recreation Department would take over the Outback, with the town covering its $225,000 annual operating budget—offset by $70,000 that the board would fundraise, $33,000 in income (rentals, programs) and an additional $39,000 saved by sliding in a Rec staffer to run it.

Built in 2001 as a teen center with funds raised privately, and on town land through a no-cost lease, the Outback’s board is seeking “to repurpose the center to align with the current needs of the town’s youth.”

“The Board is proposing reorienting the Outback Teen Center as a Youth and Family Community Center while maintaining its emphasis on middle school and high school programming and family events,” according to the board’s proposal, which can be found in full below. “A portion of our community’s indoor recreational and enrichment needs is being well served by the adult and senior community center in town, Lapham. It is important to have a designated facility to serve the social and enrichment needs of the youth and families in town.”

The proposal, titled “Repurposing the Outback: Plan for a Youth and Family Community Center (YC),” calls for the Outback board to turn over the building to the town in exchange for providing programs for youth and families.

New Canaan in years past has supported Outback with a $20,000 stipend.

Outback Board of Directors President Sangeeta Appel said in an email that this year, the nonprofit did not seek a grant from the town.

“Instead we proposed a new plan to partner with the town to repurpose the center,” Appel said.

Received in recent weeks, the plan is in the hands of town officials.

It isn’t clear whether or how quickly they’re prepared to move on the Outback’s proposal—or just what would happen if no agreement is immediately reached.

Outback has been working toward defining a new role since at least last summer. While town officials long have praised Outback’s board for its diligence in fundraising and creativity in trying to make the facility work in the face of a changing human services landscape, they’ve stopped short at the Board of Selectmen level of committing to a public-private partnership.

At a Jan. 23 selectmen meeting, Recreation Director Steve Benko was asked what might be required on the cost side for the town to get more involved in running teen-specific programs.

Benko answered that his department’s youth programming focuses on a specific age group and that “you would have to look at reinventing the program” were responsibilities for teens added to it.

Regarding Outback, First Selectman Rob Mallozzi has said in public meetings that many organizations in town serve youth. While chairing a Board of Finance meeting last week, he said that New Canaan spends significant taxpayer dollars on young people, Outback or no.

No one has argued that there’s no need for programs in town that serve youth. With multiple organizations providing those programs, what isn’t clear is whether taking over Outback as proposed is, in the eyes of town officials, the most effective way to address that need.

The proposal calls for a “Youth Recreation Supervisor” who would oversee the facility with a staff of part-timers, operating Outback 48 weeks out of the year. The board would reform, including with some current members, and commit to raising $70,000 per year.

“Operation costs may be further offset by long-term rental from YMCA and/or grant from the New Canaan Community Foundation,” the proposal says.

Outback notes in its proposal that teen centers in neighboring towns operate with a more substantial investment from their municipalities. In demonstrating the need for a community center in New Canaan that’s geared toward families and young people, the Outback in its proposal cites a 2013 report and increased usage.

Here is the Outback’s full proposal:


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