Cherokee Youth Center set for April completion


One-feather staff

Construction of the new Cherokee Youth Center is on schedule with a ribbon cutting in less than three months.

A peek up the main staircase in the Cherokee Youth Center lobby. This area will also feature a slide from the second floor. (Photos by JONAH LOSSIAH/A Feather)

Chris Greene, director of EBCI Project Management, said there have been few disruptions over the past year. They are going through the final stages, especially with the facility’s exterior landscaping. Greene said the project is also currently on budget. This budget was set at $19.2 million by the Tribal Council, including $16 million for actual construction costs. The team hopes to be able to implement additional functionality thanks to the limited number of setbacks.

There will be a small amphitheater behind the building and play areas with padded artificial grass in front. The rooms for all the younger ones will have a different colorful theme. It is a two-storey building designed entirely for youth services.

Matt Hollifield, director of the Cherokee Youth Center, said this facility will help the community and the education department in many ways. First and foremost, he thinks the extra space will mean there will be no more waiting lists.

“We hope to completely erase the waiting list. Young children are usually the ones who need it the most. We hope we have encountered this and more. As they get older, we hope they stay at this new facility. The better the services we provide, the longer they will hopefully stay,” Hollifield said.

He said he put a lot of thought into the appearance of the building, both inside and out. The main goal was to create a space that children in Cherokee are excited to visit.

“We didn’t want it to look like a school. We didn’t want kids getting off the bus from one school to go to another. We wanted it to be fun. We serve four different school systems, so we couldn’t put brown or a certain color on everything. We tried to make it neutral and fun when they come in,” Hollifield said.

Renissa McLaughlin, Director of EBCI Education, said this project will allow them to look at the diverse services they have always wanted to offer.

“It’s not a daycare. I think that was one of the comments that was made when we added the gymnasium to this building was that “we don’t need to build another recreation center”. The Youth Center is under Education for a reason. They have a long list of prescribed grant-funded services that these staff members provide to children. During COVID, when all schools were closed, the Youth Center staffed itself with teachers. It’s not their skilled profession, but we filled the roles.

A small amphitheater is placed behind the youth center.

She also said that cultivating an exciting space for everyone was key. The upper floor is reserved for teenagers and high school students. They plan to have pool tables, games, a kitchen area and everything they think will make it a complete experience.

“Hopefully increase the number of teenagers. They get to a certain age and then they drop out. Hopefully this will inspire young people to use the Youth Center and see it not just as a place for small children, but for all age groups up to high school. It’s really important for our teenagers to have a place to go.

McLaughlin said she wanted to fill the space as quickly as possible. She feels that this project was long overdue. The old Youth Center building has been difficult to maintain. She said the straw that broke the camel’s back was the need for a new roof, which would have cost $500,000.

This large multi-purpose hall will be used for athletics and extracurricular activities for all ages.

“It was just another band-aid on a building that was never really meant to be a long-term solution for school-age child care,” McLaughlin said. “The Youth Center has more than 115 people on the waiting list. For example, if you show up every time the kindergarten prepares to register you, people are there before the opening of the Center in line to enter. We know the needs of the community are not being met. This is how we responded to the needs of the community, building a new facility. Because it was just a long time ago. It was a waste of the tribe’s money to keep fixing things.

A ribbon cutting should take place at the end of April, but the final date is not quite fixed.

There will be a two-week transition phase after completion of construction. This is to give time to train their workers on the ins and outs of the new facility. The Cherokee Youth Center will then transfer its current students to the new building.

McLaughlin said they are already accepting applications for the fall and new families can register at

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