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On the Right Track(side)?

Teen center's top officials paint a good picture about its direction.

During last year's budget process, it appeared Trackside Teen Center's financial outlook was headed south. But new director Mark Ketley and new president Peg Koellmer insist that things are now headed in a better direction.

"We're really happy with what's been going on in the last six or seven weeks since school's started," said Ketley at Monday night's Board of Selectmen meeting. "The center has really become a hub [of community activity]."

Ketley said that the center's new focus has been to engage more of the community by making Trackside more available. This includes opening it up and encouraging its use to area businesses and community organizations.

Keltey pointed out that, in September alone, the center had 15 outside groups come in to use the facility for meetings. Of those, 14 of them were groups directly related to children, meaning the center is fulfilling the promise it made when it opened in 2004 of serving as a hub for "age-appropriate" teen activity in the community. Ketley added that "28 out of 30 days last month, Trackside had something going on with it."

Trackside officials have also pushed town tweens and teens to have a more active role in promoting the center and its offerings. Ketley said the center now has two students members on its board who have voting rights, and that it has been "good to involve them."

The center will also be expanding its offerings in the hopes of creating a bigger draw, adding martial arts fitness classes, cooking classes, more after school programming, and even a self defense class for teenage girls.

"Going back a number of months ago, we were really concerned about the direction of the teen center," First Selectman Bill Brennan said following Ketley's presentation. "We were really looking at the utilization rate and it was really low...I think what Mark (Ketley) and Peg (Koellmer) have responded to is to really utilize this terrific facility and make it so it's cool...we don't have a lot of things for teens to do in this town, but if we can make our teen center cool, we will have accomplished a major goal."

"It's a relatively young organization," added selectman Richard Creeth. "I'm delighted in the progress that it is showing."

Despite the good news of increased usage, Creeth also was careful to ask about Trackside's finances, which were a source of concern for the Boards of Selectmen and Finance last March. That picture is less clear.

Previously, Trackside's 2011 projected expenses amounted to $315,404, the highest they've been since 2007, while its gross profit was projected to fall around $45,000 to $258,673 in 2011 from a 2009 high of $303,414. Obviously part of the struggle is due to the ailing economy, but with costs up and revenue down, there is always a concern, particularly when the town is usually called upon to make up that difference.

"Financially, I don't have a lot of history in how we're doing," Ketley responded. "I can tell you that our cash flow has been very strong for the last three months...budgetarily, I think we're doing fine...I'm not going to come in here and say we'll have a $100,000 surplus, but I think we can safely say we're paying our bills."

"This is the first time we've been able to pay today's bills with yesterday's money," Koellmer added. "I think we're doing great."

Both Ketley and Koellmer did not provide financial specifics, but their enthusiasm for the center's direction seemed more to be the purpose of their Monday presentation.

"We're really delighted that you came tonight and gave us a more detailed briefing," Brennan said.

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