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Small numbers, big ideas

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[SEPT. 8, 2003]  Logan Lanes closed the alleys and opened the floor for the voices of youth in Logan County Saturday night. Logan County Board member Patrick O'Neill and Logan Lanes owner Shawn Taylor invited youth to come in and discuss improvements for youth activities in our area.

Devon Sutton, a seventh-grader at Lincoln Junior High School, stated prior to the meeting: "There's nothing to do in Lincoln. If you ride your bike on the sidewalk, you get in trouble. If you ride in the street, it's too busy. And the bike ramp at the Rec isn't very good -- it has bricks in it." Sutton suggested that the city build a BMX track closer to the town's center -- perhaps in one of the downtown park areas.

Along with O'Neill, the meeting was also directed by two city council members, Derek Crane and Joanie Tibbs, as well as Mayor Beth Davis and Chief of Police Rich Montcalm. Joe Hackett and Jim Ash from CITV Channel 5 were present to emcee and tape the meeting.

Fourteen kids and teens from local communities, along with several parents, attended the first-ever "Town Meeting for Youth." Some terrific ideas came out of the mouths of these babes. Rachael Jones, an eighth-grader at Chester-East Lincoln, suggested that the city provide an indoor swimming pool for the winter months.

Another popular idea, offered by nearly all the male students present, was some type of kid-friendly arcade center.

Shawn Taylor offered this rebuttal: "With the expansion of home systems such as Nintendo and Game Cube, it is increasingly difficult for arcades to sustain business alone." Taylor also suggested a business similar to a Chuck E. Cheese establishment, where multiple activities, as well as food, are offered to kids and families.

Joel Rankin, a fifth-grader from Mount Pulaski Grade School, suggested a kind of youth center that provides a central meeting place for kids in the community to congregate. He suggested that this youth center might contain an indoor pool, game room, miniature golf area, batting cages, and ice skating and roller rink. Other kids nodded in agreement around him.

Mayor Davis, along with the rest of the board, listened carefully to all the great suggestions. She stated that several new ideas are in the works right now, including a BMX track project from the Lincoln Park District.

O'Neill mentioned that two local residents are interested in building a stock car racetrack in the Lincoln area. O'Neill added that this type of business would open the door to increased businesses and revenue for the city.

Mayor Davis asked the crowd for ideas in raising funds for the project. She suggested possibly holding a dance.


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Crane stated that, since Logan Lanes is expanding, an adjacent miniature golf course may have some success. Taylor noted that the original plans for expansion of Logan Lanes included building an indoor playground similar to the Jungle O Fun (located in Springfield), along with an 18-hole indoor mini golf course. He stated that, while these plans fell through due to financing issues, they are possibilities on a longer-term basis.

At this time, Logan Lanes plans to offer a glow-in-the-dark pool table, foosball tables and golf simulators for adults and older children.

Another possibility is the increased popularity of coffeehouses for youth. O'Neill stated that the city is looking at the increased enrollment of youth in schools and local colleges and is interested in gearing more businesses to meet the needs and wants of students.

A concerned parent mentioned an interest in offering entertainment for youth in an alcohol-free, smoke-free environment. The group noted the popularity of local coffeehouses such as Einstein's in Lincoln and Bertoni's II in Mount Pulaski, both of which offer kid-safe hangouts that include music, use of Internet-accessible computers, games, snacks and, of course, a selection of coffees.

Other possible expansions include more family-style restaurants and a possible theme park built around the giant Lincoln statue. Jessie Rankin, a fourth-grader from MPGS, suggested a water park be built in that area.

"We need a place where kids can go and do just about anything with their friends," added Sutton.

Chief Montcalm noted that the city wants to avoid having kids and teens hanging out in business parking lots, mostly due to the litter and trash complaints. He suggested that this might not be a problem if kids were responsible for their mess.

The next Town Meeting for Youth will be in February 2004. At that time, a dance will follow the meeting. CITV will provide free music, and the group may offer some prizes for those attending.

O'Neill stated that he would like to see an expansion of the YMCA, along with a mentoring program for local youth.

A committee on youth, senior citizens and minorities meets on the second Tuesday of the month at Mayor Davis' office in City Hall. This meeting is at 6 p.m. and is open to the public. Public ideas are always welcome.

[Patricia Rankin]


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