EDWARDS — It’s Saturday night at The Basement, and a handful of high school students are gathered around a table playing a loud game of poker, chomping on chips, while others chat at a long, marble-bar table and others engage in a heated pingpong game.
It could easily be a bustling coffee shop — kind of a Loaded Joe’s for the younger crowd — or someone’s swanky basement. In fact, it’s an office space located on the quiet river side of The Riverwalk at Edwards, a tucked away spot that has just taken shape into a congregating place for high school students over the last couple months.
The Basement, as the spot has been dubbed, was organized by Scott Leonard, who has worked with valley youth for nearly a decade, and a handful of parents who wanted to provide a safe place for their kids to hang out. In a small town, the options are limited, and adults feared that kids were getting in trouble out of sheer boredom.
“A couple parents raised some money to get this place started,” said Leonard. “A Battle Mountain High School mom, Anne Barnett, has been told by local law enforcement, ‘You need to find something for the kids to do on the weekends, or they’ll keep getting into trouble.’ She encouraged other moms to raise the first year’s worth of rent to get a place.”
An alternative for kids
Barnett said that everyone from local businesses to parent groups supported the idea.
“The response has been overwhelming,” she said. “Even people with kids in junior high school have committed money because down the road, they want a place for their kids to hang out.”
Vail Christian High School teacher Stephanie Archibeque said that when Leonard approached her about getting a new space for local teens, she was thrilled. Her own kids are in elementary school, but she remembers growing up in the valley.
“When I was in high school at BMHS, there were few activities to do on the weekend — and even fewer where alcohol was not involved,” she said. “Often, we’d hang out at Crossroads (now Solaris) — and either go to a movie or hang out until we heard of a party.”
Leonard and the parents found a suitable spot in The Riverwalk — on the bottom floor next to the Vail Board of Realtors. He rallied both parents and local businesses to chip in to furnish and rebuild the space — the community donated everything from labor to money to furniture. Now, it’s nearly finished, with long tables, a long kitchen/bar area where coffee, hot chocolate and snacks will be sold, a stage with a sound system, several TVs that will play ski flicks throughout the winter and pingpong and pool tables.
“Imagine Starbucks meets high-end game room, with fun stuff that you can do and a place to hang out,” said Leonard. “There will be coffee shop seating and coffee, karaoke and live music from some of the kids’ bands.”
Battle Mountain senior Sonya Barnett, Anne Barnett’s daughter, said there have already been a couple hangout nights at The Basement, with themes ranging from pingpong tourneys to poker nights.
“I think this is one of the best things that have happened in the valley,” she said. “It’s a good opportunity for kids to have a healthy environment and hang out in a cool atmosphere. Growing up in the culture of Battle Mountain High School, I think it’s really good for kids to have an outlet like this. Otherwise there’s always the influence of drugs and alcohol. Other than hanging out at the Riverwalk or going to someone’s house party, there was really no place to go.”
A community center, too
Leonard hopes The Basement will function as a hangout spot on weekend evenings and double as a community center throughout the week.
The spot, which sits empty during the school day, can be rented for business, community and family functions. Hopefully, with enough interest, the space can support itself eventually, he said.
The entire concept is still getting off the ground — currently Young Life meets there every Monday night, and hangout nights are loosely organized through the schools and some local churches, but Leonard plans to establish the place as a spot to be every weekend. At the moment it’s geared toward high school kids, but eventually Leonard said they might organize a once-a-month middle school night as well.
The space is a boon for youth programs like Young Life, said Ben Dodds, Young Life area director .
“Having a space like The Basement located in the heart of The Riverwalk is just another way for us to reach more of our middle school and high school friends. The hipster look and feel of The Basement continues to draw kids in and allows dedicated volunteers an opportunity to build a relationship with each kid who enters The Basement,” he said.
Upcoming dates and events will be announced through the spot’s Facebook page.
Assistant Managing Editor Melanie Wong can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and 970-748-2927.