Perseverance pays off in struggle over Boys & Girls Club

September 20, 2012 

Eleven years after the Boys & Girls Club made its debut in the South Sound, it appears the organization now has a clear path toward establishing a club in Olympia.

The club has been trying for three years to build a 20,000-square-foot facility in the Garfield Elementary School area. It has taken numerous discussions with the Olympia School District and the City of Olympia to find a suitable site and, most recently, a series of meetings to satisfy vocal neighborhood opposition.

But after a meeting this week, it appears the current plan is receiving universal acceptance. That’s good, because the sooner construction can begin, the sooner children can start benefiting from the club’s programs.

Homeowners in the Garfield neighborhood expressed concerns about the sheer size and scope of the project, and they were critical of original plans for the club that would have consumed one of the school’s four ball fields.

Neighbors were again critical of a revised plan that would have eliminated a tennis court.

But club officials were adamant about placing the club in the Garfield area, where it would serve a population with the greatest need in Olympia. To everyone’s credit, the conversation continued until a reasonable compromise was found. The club will now build its tall gymnasium next to the school and its lower-rise section along Thomas Street Northwest. It will not eliminate any tennis courts or athletic fields.

If the plan meets approval at a final public meeting next Tuesday, the club will apply for permits from the city and prepare for a date with the city’s hearings examiner.

That’s quite a bit of progress since earlier this spring when Garfield’s neighbors demanded the organization move elsewhere, such as Jefferson Middle School.

Garfield is the right location for Olympia’s first Boys & Girls Club. It has the district’s highest concentration of students receiving free or reduced school lunches, one indicator of need for club programs.

Despite the difficulty finding the right plan for the site, the extended dialogue should help in the long run. Neighbors should feel that their voices have been heard, and that the club can actually become an asset to the area.

And children of the area will have a safe, nurturing environment before and after school to learn good study habits, engage in healthy recreational activities and forge friendships.

The South Sound’s first club was built in an old bus barn at Tumwater High School. Still in its original location, that club serves about 200 kids a day.

After a nearly $400,000 renovation project last year, the Lacey Boys & Girls Club now serves about 250 kids on an average day. There is a third club in Rochester.

The group hopes to break ground at Garfield around this time next year, if their fundraising goes as expected. The organization needs $4.5 million to start construction. It has raised slightly more than half that amount to date.

The Garfield project is a milestone for the Boys & Girls Clubs for a couple of reasons. First, it will have finally established a club in the South Sound’s core city. Second, it will be the first opportunity to build a club from the ground up.

With a permanent presence in Olympia, which has nearly 500 homeless kids in its school district, the club will serve a real social purpose.

All those who contributed positively to finding the Garfield solution, can give themselves a pat on the back.

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