Technology lab inspired by teens, created for teens

Two years ago it was just a fantasy, a wish list of equipment, the dream of a place that teens in Valencia Park could call their own.

City leaders and supporters mark the official opening of the Legler Benbough Teen IDEA Lab.

On Friday, Jan. 27, that dream came true.

Library staff, community members and donors came together to celebrate the grand opening of the Legler Benbough Teen IDEA Lab, a modern technology lab at the Valencia Park/Malcolm X Branch Library, 5148 Market St. IDEA stands for innovation and digital expression activity.

In planning for the development of this modern facility, local teens and students from neighboring schools were invited to provide input during a series of focus groups between 2014 and 2015.

“The residents wanted an upgrade at this library, something that would better serve the youth, and this is where the idea of the Teen Center came from, the desire to serve the youth in our community,” said Council President Myrtle Cole, District Four. “I am confident that skills learned in this Teen IDEA Lab, at this great library, will be used by our youth to change future technology.”

Inside the Legler Benbough Teen IDEA Lab, youth can learn new skills in STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) in a welcoming and collaborative environment. The lab features 3D printers, a sound recording studio, an interactive video wall, Xbox and PlayStation games, and more than 30 computers including iMacs and PCs. Educators will use the space to teach courses in coding, digital media and design, college prep and resume building.

“In the recording studio, a lot of the kids in my community enjoy singing and rapping, so it’s neat to have that stuff here,” said Riana Hill, a local student who toured the lab on opening day.

For the first time in a San Diego Public Library facility, a Wi-Fi hot spot lending program will be offered through a partnership with Sprint. Using a library card, teens can check out a Wi-Fi hot spot to use outside the library for a period of three months. Fifty hot spots will be available at the Legler Benbough Teen IDEA Lab and borrowers must complete an orientation prior to checking out the devices.

This is only the second teen technology lab of its kind in San Diego, similar to one located on the eighth floor of the San Diego Central Library. More than educational opportunities, the facility will offer teens a safe space to work and socialize.

“We gave $1 million to this project for one simple reason – we believe in you in this neighborhood,” said Peter Ellsworth, president of local non-profit The Legler Benbough Foundation which donated $1 million to build the lab. “We believe you’re the ones who need to work with the library over time to ensure that this library teen center always produces what works for you.”

This project is also funded with $500,000 in Community Development Block Grant funds provided by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to the City of San Diego, in addition to PEG (public, educational and governmental) cable television franchise fees.

“This space is designed to provide every teen in this community with the opportunity to learn, experiment, create and collaborate with other teens, to discover new technology and information so that they can be inspired,” said Library Director Misty Jones.

The Legler Benbough Teen IDEA Lab is open seven days per week for young people ages 12 to 18 years old. Teens are welcome to enter the space any time during open hours. A library card is required for equipment use. Lab resources and programs will be offered for adults during specified dates and times.

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