Council wants a place for teens, but not at Warner Hutton House

Saratoga teens who want to maintain youth programs at the Warner Hutton House are once again under scrutiny by the city council. The house was donated to the city in 1896 by the late Saratoga farmer Warner Hutton. It was declared a national historic landmark in 1995, but its maintenance has fallen by the wayside in recent years due to budget cuts. As a result, the house will be undergoing major renovations for a good portion of the summer.

City council members are hesitant to allow teen programs to return to the house after the renovations because of the potential wear and tear from after-school programs and concerts. Councilwoman Ann Waltonsmith said the house had been “battered” by teen use.

“[We want to] use it to its fullest capacity,” she added. She argued events that were hard on the house–such as those put on by the youth commission–rendered the house not as valuable as a rental for community activities, such as weddings.

The city council is considering other options to find a venue for teen activities. One suggestion–the community center– raised concerns that doing so could have an adverse affect on the city’s budget. Another option would be to rent a house in the Saratoga Village, but high rent costs shot down that possibility. Other suggestions included adding a teen wing onto the community center or building a new teen center.

The council felt the most realistic possibility at this point would be to allow a limited number of more subdued youth events to be held at Warner Hutton while moving the majority of teen events to a facility at North Campus. Funding for such a facility is limited, but public works director John Cherbone confirmed during a city council meeting on June 7 that money could be taken from city parks to develop other projects, so long as they were for community recreation. Mayor Norman Kline called North Campus an “ideal” place for a youth center.

Saratoga Youth Commission member Phillip Baker argued North Campus would not adequately replace the Warner Hutton House as a hub for teenagers. “North Campus doesn’t have the history or character that teens like and have come to expect from our teen programs,” he said.

However, history and character are not high priorities for the city council in their search for a home for teens. Even teen program coordinator Adam Henig cited access to facilities as the biggest issue for the youth community. Kline agreed, saying, “We have a community center, we have a senior center, why not a youth center?”

Saratoga resident Chris Miller spoke before the city council and the youth commission at the June 7 meeting. Miller teaches in Los Gatos and recently finished a master’s degree in elementary education, where his focus was on drug and alcohol prevention. He said, “there is a consistent need for a place that teens can call their own” to keep them from turning to drugs and alcohol for recreation.

The majority of the city council appeared determined to provide a place for middle and high school students within the city of Saratoga.

“I’d really like to see the teens have a space that is their home,” said Councilwoman Kathleen King. Kline agreed with her. “We have to put teens at high priority for space in this city,” he said.

The council did not make any formal decisions regarding the Warner Hutton House or Saratoga’s youth programs at the June 7 meeting. It decided to discuss it at a future meeting, when members also will decide how to proceed with the development of North Campus.

This piece originally appeared in the Saratoga News.

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