It was a disappointing Saturday morning for Father Don Flumerfelt as he watched an excavator tear down the former Hay River Youth Centre.
“I’m just sad,” Flumerfelt said from the rectory building near the site of the now demolished building. All that was left was a pile of rubble to be cleared away.
The town sold the land under the building earlier this year to the King family while they still owned Kingland Ford, a dealership abutting the rear and side of the property.
The levelling of the building closes the chapter on nearly two decades of sometimes troubled efforts to provide a space for youth in the community who might not be able to afford to go anywhere else.
Glen Wellington told The Hub in 2011 he could recall a time when the centre saw 75 to 125 children coming through per night. It had been operated for a time under the Hay River Ministerial Association. Flumerfelt had been on the board of the group.
He recalled that the building was originally given to the Boys and Girls Club, but that only lasted about a year.
It then became a drop-in centre for youth who had nowhere else to hang out in the evening. Teens were able to play pool, watch movies or play informal sports, he said.
“I know for a fact that had the youth centre not been there, there would have been dead teenagers,” he said.
Pressed for details, he spoke of a case where a teenage girl had come in a few summers ago on the edge of alcohol poisoning. Staff got her to help, he said.
The centre closed for periods because of financial difficulty and some parents did not want to send their children there because of its reputation, according to The Hub archives.
Flumerfelt recalled an incident when he was chair of the association in 2010 where an adult and two teens tried to burn the building down.
For years, the town sought to have the centre relocated.
In 2010, there were plans to move the drop-in area to the Don Stewart Recreation Centre.
Over time, Lights On, another drop-in program, handled part of the role the centre once
The Hub couldn’t determine the exact date the centre closed its doors for the last time.
Coun. Keith Dohey said that for a time the centre served its purpose well, but operations and maintenance costs seemed to have become too much.
“There was a time when there wasn’t much going on in town for the youth,” he said, commending the dedicated group that had been running it.
“I think over time the cost of operating and maintaining (the) building, finding volunteers and staff, those types of things made it difficult to continue in their original capacity,” he said. “There’s also a lot more going on in town for our youth now than before so I think that brought attendance down at the youth centre.”
Dohey said with the building gone, it turns the page on the youth centre, but doesn’t close the book on youth programming in the community.
“The community cares about our young people and that won’t change, with or without a specific building,” he said.
Coun. Jason Coakwell said as the lot was sold over the summer, he no longer considers the building the youth centre.
“The property was sold, so it hasn’t been the youth centre property for a few months,” he said.
“It’ll be good to have that area developed,” he said. “It’ll be good to have the area cleaned up a bit.”
He said he’s not sure what the property will be used for once cleared.
A call to a member of the King family and Mayor Andrew Cassidy were not returned by press time.