Athens teenagers have some great ideas about how to improve their city, including community storm shelters, new entertainment opportunities such as laser tag, and converting to a five-block school schedule so they can take more elective classes.
These were just some of the suggestions made to City Council members during a presentation made Monday by 11 of the 27 members of the Mayor’s Youth Commission.
The first group of commissioners, including Kennedy Palmer, appreciated that they recently developed a Future Land Use Plan outlining its long-term goals. However, they would like to see some immediate changes — some “fresh ideas” for the city.
Palmer created an online suggestion form that would allow residents to offer ideas on appearance, utilities, schools, roads, security and other topics.
“Who better than residents of Athens to provide ideas for the city to improve?” she said.
Tourism and recreation
The second group of commissioners — Katie Dunn, Christina Brewer, Maggie Besh and Mary Claire Breakfield — studied tourism and recreational opportunities in the city. They counted as positive features the Alabama Veterans Museum and Archives, antebellum Donnell House, historic districts, The Square downtown, Cinemagic Theatre and drive-in, batting cages, miniature golf and Interskate roller rink. However, they would also like to see more clothing stores for teens, especially males; a bowling alley; and a laser-tag business.
“Although we have entertainment for most ages, teenagers struggle to find something to do,” they said. “Things such as more shopping opportunities, a bowling alley or laser tag … would be an exciting development.”
The third group of commissioners — Mac McAlister, Cara Harris, LaVinson Rogers and Benton Key — said they would like to see city schools convert to a five-block schedule so students can take more elective classes or to have a study period during the day.
They concluded that the current schedule prevents them from “discovering new hobbies and talents that could be beneficial to them, or even lead them to a future job.”
The proposed schedule would also create time for busy students to study during the day rather than wait until night, after sporting practices and other extracurricular activities, when they are tired.
The fourth group of commissioners — Jarrett McLin, Cole Clayton, Ashley Donahue, Miranda Hudleston and Kayla Vaughn — studied public safety and suggested, among other things, the city build more sidewalks, and more biking and walking trails.
They also suggested building public storm shelters or safe rooms, especially for people living in rural areas who have nowhere to go in a storm. They also recommended the city establish a weather-radio update day so residents could update their weather-radio channels. Although some television stations offer the service, the teenagers said a local event would be more convenient.
Mayor Ronnie Marks said he was impressed with what the students had accomplished this year, the first for the commission.
“We have asked them for ways to improve the experience, and we plan to offer this opportunity again to our city students for this coming fall,” Marks said. “We don’t want them to feel disconnected with their city. We want them to learn the role of our city departments and branches of government but also learn their responsibility is to be informed and involved citizens.”
The youth commission includes students from Athens High School and Athens Bible School. It was created to prepare the next generation to lead the city.