GARDINER — Faced with the steep costs updating an aging school building and ongoing maintenance obligations, the board of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Kennebec Valley has chosen a different option.

This month, the board is unveiling a plan to replace the building the 20-year-old club has called home for 18 years with a new, $10 million building.

The new Boys & Girls Clubs building will be built next to the existing Pray Street building. When the new building is completed, the club’s original building will be razed and replaced with a soccer field.

Plans call for the building to be one-third larger than the existing building, so the organization will be able to expand its child care offerings for children 6 weeks old or older and expand its capacity to serve school-age children in after-school programs and the senior citizens who also use the facility.

Even as architects and engineers have been working on the building’s design and layout, the clubs’ board of directors and a campaign cabinet have been working for three years on paying for the project. To date, $7 million has been raised or pledged, and now they are making public their drive to raise the remaining $3 million.

The club is expected to break ground on the 32,000-square-foot building in April, with a targeted completion date of the second half of 2021.

“I’ve only built this building at night seven times,” Peter Prescott said last week in an interview with the Kennebec Journal.

Prescott is chief executive officer of E.J. Prescott Inc., the Gardiner-based waterworks distributor, and a supporter of the clubs. He was joined by Gena Canning, managing partner of Pine State Beverage; John Fallona, former owner of On Target Utility Services; Maribeth Canning, capital campaign director; and Ingrid Stanchfield, chief executive officer of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Kennebec Valley.

The organization they support has served more than 20,000 kids since it was formed in 1999 from Gardiner’s youth recreation program. In 2018, club programs served 1,844 children, more than half of whom are at or below the federal poverty level. In its capacity as a feeding site for youth and senior citizens, more than 75,000 meals were served.

The event that triggered this project was the renovation of the club’s Teen Center about five years ago.

“The day we celebrated the Teen Center, when they ripped it apart, I saidnow I know what we’re dealing with,” Stanchfield said.

Her next stop was Prescott’s office, where she gave details of the building’s condition. That kicked off the discussion about choosing the best path forward, the creation of a strategic plan and the capital campaign that kicked off about three years ago.

For them, the need was clear.

“If the freezer breaks, we could get somebody to put a new compressor in,” Gena Canning said. “We could hop along, but it’s not really the right thing to do for the kids and it’s certainly not going to help the families that are sitting on the waiting list (for child care). It’s certainly not going to help the child care crisis we have going on in central Maine, particularly with lower-income families.”

Stanchfield said the club now has 52 early childhood spaces, and a waiting list of 71.

From that decision, others took shape. If the building were to be demolished, the clubs’ programs and kids would have to be accommodated elsewhere for the duration of construction. They considered leasing spaces, but that came with additional costs and the logistical problems of arranging for transportation to different locations.

“I was the one screaming the loudest about that,” Prescott said. “That was just a total waste of money. If we burned that money (on temporary locations), we didn’t gain. We didn’t get ahead.”

That led to the decision to build next to the existing building, which opened up the chance to improve traffic flow on the site and to shift the facility closer to the grounds of the Gardiner Area High School.

That connection is important. While the current Boys & Girls Clubs building is quiet for the first part of the day, the energy level spikes after 2 p.m., when school buses start dropping younger kids off and high school students make their way over.

On Tuesday, Emma Roberts was among six club kids to spend a few minutes talking about what the club means to them.

Roberts, now 16, has been coming to the club since she was 1. Having the club made child care easier for her parents, she said.

“The club was always a place for me when my parents were at work,” Ellen Karlberg, 20, said. “With my parents being split up, the club was a literally second home for me and the staff that I had helped raise me. I look forward to a new club so I can be that person for someone else who might be in (that situation).”

“You feel very comfortable and you can be yourself here,” Liang Zhi Lin, 21, said. “It’s a lot different from a school environment.”

“There’s a really good group of eighth-graders who come here,” Caleb Hudson, 17, said, then nodding toward Dillon Elliot, 13, sitting next to him. “It would be cool if they continue, and maybe work here some day. It would be neat to see them grow up here.”

The club offers adult supervision for the children, and a chance to build relationships and a chance to get a meal for free.

They all recognize that the Boys & Girls Clubs is the only option for child care and after school care. And like Juliana Montell, 15, who has a specific wish for a full-size sink for the kitchen area at the new Teen Center, they all have wishes for what they want the new club to have, even as they are a bit sad the place where they have been coming will be eventually be torn down.

The club draws children from Gardiner, West Gardiner, Randoph and Pittston, which are the communities served by School Administrative District 11 for after school and sports programs.

Every year, Stanchfield makes the rounds to budget hearings and town meetings in those communities with annual requests for support. That money, about $95,000, goes straight to the operating budget of about $1 million, and none of that will go to the building project, she said.

“This is really different than almost any charity I’ve ever run into,” Prescott said. “The thing is, if we have some sort of disaster so we couldn’t do what we were doing, the club would operate just as its operating now.

“The only difference is we couldn’t take people off the waiting list. It’s the only charity I’ve ever run into that has maintained and stayed in the black from the beginning of time.”

“To me,” Stanchfield said, “it’s taking all the good work that’s happened all of these years in partnership with our towns and building on it and strengthening it. Now we do need private investment to get to the next place, because we know our small towns can’t come up with $10 million to build a new Boys & Girls club. To me, it’s just the beauty of how this all works together.”

In addition to the fundraising for the building, Gena Canning said an endowment fund is also in the works to help support the club and its vision long term.

Stanchfield said the club has a satellite operation at Chelsea Elementary School, and that is going to be the model going forward in other communities.

In the short term, the next steps for the project are the public phase of fundraising and submitting the project to the Gardiner Planning Board for review and approval.

“There are people who say they didn’t even know there was a Boys & Girls Club,” Maribeth Canning said. “If you’re not in the family, you don’t understand what a linchpin this organization is in the community. So now we have a lot of education to do to show this, in some respects, is a sophisticated, well-run Boys & Girls Clubs — one of the best in the state.”

 

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