Brookline Teen Center: A Model for Going Green

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The Brookline Teen Center (BTC) is a model for sustainability. Founded by two Brookline natives – Paul Epstein, a Brookline High School social worker, and his wife, Saskia, a non-profit director – the Teen Center offers an array of programs and events for local teens centered around academic enrichment, physical activity, and socio-emotional health. Located on Aspinwall Avenue in a former automotive garage building, it features a bowling alley, gym, dance studio, outdoor patio, game rooms, study hall, and music recording studio.

Photograph courtesy of Kaplan Construction

From the earliest planning phases of the project, the BTC organization was committed to sustainability as a core value, in both design and operation. To demonstrate this environmental commitment, the project team decided to pursue LEED certification, and in 2015, the BTC received LEED Silver certification. The BTC project extensively renovated the 12,000 square-foot upper level of the 1930’s garage, maintaining 95 percent of the existing concrete-framed shell. During construction, sustainable building materials were used and 75 percent of construction waste was diverted from the landfill. Additionally, the building features many environmentally responsible elements, including water-efficient plumbing fixtures, and energy-efficient HVAC and lighting; during the initial years of operation, the BTC purchased renewable energy certificates to offset a portion of their electricity usage. Outside the building, sustainable practices include water-efficient “rain-garden” landscaping; and because approximately 85% of Brookline Teens can access the BTC location via public transit, the site includes limited parking capacity with priority for low-emitting vehicles. 

Photograph courtesy of Kaplan Construction

During the four years it took to plan and construct the BTC, local teen representatives were actively involved, attending project meetings and offering input on facility programming and design. Having input from the teens was a huge benefit, especially with the use and distribution of recycled construction materials. The general contractor, Kaplan Construction, used corrugated metal siding, hardi-panels, and highway guard rails repurposed from a nearby road project for the shell of the new elevator tower and the canopy additions. This not only defined the “edgy” look the teens sought, it also resulted in large savings. 

“With the youth’s input and Kaplan Construction’s tremendous expertise, the Brookline Teen Center was built efficiently and is now a sustainably-operated place where local youth can learn, grow, and have fun,” reflected Bobby Zuker, the BTC Board Chair. While teen involvement in the planning stages was incredibly beneficial for the BTC, perhaps more significantly,  noted Zuker, “the process enabled the teens to grasp the importance of sustainable practices in building design and construction in a directly applicable and personally-relevant way, further encouraging sustainability values among these future leaders.”

Photographs courtesy of Kaplan Construction

The BTC’s commitment to sustainability is also reflected in its role in the Brookline Community Composting Program. Together with Brookline High School students, the Teen Center created a drop-off composting program for the town’s residents, helping to reduce food waste buried in landfills, and preventing the release of methane, a potent greenhouse gas causing global warming. The idea was born in an entrepreneurship course, when a group of eight students began investigating the importance of composting to the community. With resounding support from community members and with the BTC’s help and financial support for the compost bins, their idea became a reality. 

Necessary for the success of the project, two big, metal, rodent-proof bins with an automatic closing system were ordered from Italy, the only place that produces such bins. Placed to the left of the main entrance of the BTC, the bins became available for residents’ compostable food waste donations 24/7. The collected food was hauled away weekly by Save That Stuff and brought to a local farm, where it was mixed with wood chips or other organic material for composting. The finished compost was then sold to local farmers for use as fertilizer. The students hoped that this model composting program at the BTC would increase community awareness and demand so much that more collection bins would need to be placed all over Brookline.

Compost bins outside of the Brookline Teen Center.

The students’ hope was recently realized. Last year the Town took over the composting program. Now Black Earth Compost, a local commercial composter, collects the food waste, turns it into nutrient-rich compost, and returns it to the community to re-enter the growth cycle. “This is an amazing success story in which the teens and the BTC led the way in creating a sustainable change, and after realizing its value, the town became involved and is now looking to expand it across Brookline,” reflected Zuker.

By committing to sustainability at its inception, operating with green practices, and encouraging sustainable change within the community, the BTC, “built by teens for teens,” is a model for going green.


Written by Maryana Dumalska, Sustainability Intern at Boyer Sudduth Environmental Consultants, and a senior in the Earth & Environmental Sciences Department at Boston College 

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