Boys & Girls Club eyeing new headquarters

VERGENNES — The Boys & Girls Club of Greater Vergennes could soon have another reason to celebrate in addition to its 15th anniversary (see related story): Although hurdles remain, the club might have found its first permanent home.
Club Executive Director Mike Reiderer said this week that the nonprofit organization is targeting the purchase of a home at 75 Main St., near the John Graham Shelter and just around the corner from Vergennes Union High School.
“We’re negotiating with the owners and hopefully all goes well,” Reiderer said.
The possible deal is more than an idle discussion, he said. The club has a for-now-anonymous $100,000 donation in hand to help fund the purchase, and Reiderer said the organization has already raised $25,000 in grant commitments for the project.
In all, he estimated buying the home and making upgrades to make it suitable for club use would cost about $350,000.
“It’s an old house and certainly requires some renovation. It’s fine if you’re moving your family of four in, but our services are a little different than that,” Reiderer said.
Currently, he said the club is paying $1,700 a month plus roughly another $4,000 a year in utilities for two storefronts on School Street, the club’s home for the past 10 years.
Ideally, Reiderer said a combination of grants and a capital campaign could give the club all it needs to buy and renovate the home, meaning the club could devote its rental money to serving kids.
“Once we firm up project plans we’ll be applying for more of those (grants). And we’re reaching out to the community,” he said. “Ideally we’d be able to raise the money without carrying a mortgage, which means all the rental money we’re used to paying could go back into the program.”
Or some of the rent money could pay for a mortgage, in the long term or in the short term if necessary to complete the sale.
“That’s where our building committee is really active right now, how do we want to lay out the plans to finance the project,” Reiderer said.
If the club were to find a permanent home, it would end a journey that began in the Vergennes Armory in 2000. The club had to leave that site after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and was briefly closed.
After finding temporary headquarters in St. Peter’s Catholic Church Parish Hall and the basement of the Vergennes Fire Station, the club spent a couple years in the Bixby Library basement before splitting its program between a building owned by local Masons on School Street and its current home across from the National Bank of Middlebury.
“I think we were only closed for a week, maybe two weeks, and the community rallied and helped us out with these locations so we were able to continue,” Reiderer said.
A federal funding cut ended the youth program at the Masons’ property a couple years ago, and the club consolidated in its current home.
During all those years, the club never stopped seeking a permanent home. Officials considered land next to the new senior housing project and also a city-owned parcel off New Haven Road, but the dollars never added up.
But Reiderer said the needs never went away and recently have even grown, especially for a kitchen, which is lacking at School Street. He said, for example, the number of Vergennes Union Elementary School students who are eligible for free and reduced lunches has increased to about 50 percent.
“We’ve found over the last five years or so, especially with the economic downturn, we’ve got a lot more kids, not just in the club, but in the community, where hunger is an issue,” he said.
And an easily accessible yard would be a plus.
“Being in a couple storefronts on School Street here we have good access to the elementary school if we want to go throw a ball around or shoot some baskets,” Reiderer said. “But it requires us to send a staff person out, and we’re thin as it is. We don’t have a bunch of extra people sitting around to send off with groups. So having a little space, a yard, would be wonderful to get the kids outside and a little more active.”
Finally, club officials believe a home would be more inviting to current and potential members.
“Something a little more intangible would be just the homey feel of a club,” Reiderer said. “If we could move into someplace more comfortable, more inviting, we could not just better serve the kids who are coming into the club now, but entice other people to come in.”
As well as funding, a zoning permit would be required. The property is in the Residential/Limited Business District, which lists, among others, “Child Care Facility” and “Community Center” as uses that are permitted, but only with conditional use approval.
Reiderer said he is optimistic on that count, as he is on the funding.
“Not having entered into a capital campaign, we feel pretty good about where we stand,” he said.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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