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City teen club to upgrade center

VERGENNES — The Boys & Girls Club of Greater Vergennes is about to start a renovation of its leased School Street clubhouse that will build a critical kitchen, create handicap accessibility and a dedicated homework area, and give the entire space a facelift. The work comes at a face value of close to $90,000, according to Executive Director Mike Reiderer.
The club already has $25,000 committed from the Cerf Foundation, $10,000 from the Walmart Foundation, close to $6,000 from its board members, and $1,500 from Sweet Charity toward a project that will not, in fact, cost the organization that much, Reiderer said.
“There are a lot of partners we’re working with to make the project more affordable,” he said.
The club, which serves 5th- through 12th-graders, has help already donated or promised from Northlands Job Corps for demolition and construction labor, J.W. & D.E. Ryan for plumbing and heating, Steve Dow Electric for that specialty, and H.J. LeBoeuf & Son for design and planning.
“We’ve got some great support from the community to go through with this project,” said Reiderer, who would still be happy to hear from those interested in helping at 877-6344.
The decision to renovate space in a building owned by Panton farmer Hans Vorsteveld did not come easily. Since the club’s founding in the late 1990s in the Vergennes National Guard Armory, its leadership has dreamed of owning its own building, with outdoor recreation available as well as a kitchen and a clubhouse.
In 2014, the club tried to buy a Main Street home, but was denied a zoning permit, in part because of parking issues.
Reiderer said the club could not find a property in Vergennes that met the club’s criteria of lying within walking distance of both city schools; having a large, open indoor space for kids to gather that staff could also supervise; and being affordable.
Finally, the club board concluded that staying put and adding a kitchen that could help serve many club members made the most sense, he said.
“We’ve been talking about that (owning) for a long time,” Reiderer said. “We’ve spent a good couple years looking for that freestanding space. We’ve looked at every option.”
This summer, Reiderer said the club approached landlord Hans Vorsteveld and asked to sign a longer-term lease “so we know we’re going to be here for a while, we know we’re going to be secure, we know what our rent is,” and told him, “‘We’ll put some energy and expense into making it better for the kids,’ and he agreed to that.”
The club and Vorsteveld settled on a five-year lease with an option for two more years, and the club started drawing up plans.
“He was great,” Reiderer said. “He understands how important having a good facility for the club is.”
The youth center side, to the left, will get a raised sign-in desk near the redone entrance that will allow staff to better keep an eye on the clubhouse area, which will include upgrades to its game area, living room space and video game/computer area.
To the rear on the left will be the new homework space, separated by a knee wall from the rest of the clubhouse. Reiderer said the club has been trying to help the club’s younger members create good study habits.
“Older elementary school students in particular, we’ve been working with them on a daily homework-help tutoring program,” he said.
On the right to the rear will be improved bathrooms, plus the addition of a laundry room with a shower.
The laundry and shower will help kids who come from sports practices, and those who might not always enjoy access to those facilities at home, Reiderer said.
The kitchen will be installed on the right side of the club space, about halfway back across from the video games and behind upgraded offices for club officials. Plans call for removing the wall that separates the kitchen area from the clubhouse and creating some café seating as well as installing a stove, refrigerator and sink.
Reiderer said the kitchen will be the most important addition because it will allow the club to better serve the area’s kids. He noted that when he started as a club employee 15 years ago, about a third of area students were eligible for free or reduced-price lunches at area schools.
Now, he said, more than half are eligible.
“A kitchen is another thing we’ve really been lacking,” Reiderer said. “We’re really in a great position to help make sure the kids’ nutritional needs are being met.”
Having a kitchen will also make the club, which has already worked with the Vergennes Food Shelf and Rotary Club to provide after-school snacks, eligible for more state and federal grants, he said.
The club will also be able to more easily host events.
“We’ll do more meals, some family dinners, really expand on that,” Reiderer said.
The club hopes to start upgrading the entrance this month and installing the kitchen next month, work Reiderer believes can be done without disrupting service.
Once it comes time to paint and replace floor coverings, the club will sometime next year be looking for a temporary home for at least a couple of weeks.
“We’ll be looking around the community for places to move,” Reiderer said. “We’ll certainly talk to all the people in the community that have been good to us in the past, the churches, the schools and see what we can get.”
When the dust settles and paint dries, Reiderer believes, a clubhouse will emerge that could draw new members.
“Our plan is we will attract more kids by having a more upscale environment, a nicer place to be, by being able to provide that food service at the end of the day, that extra snack,” he said.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at andyk@addisonindependent.com.

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