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Vergennes youth club set to buy a home – at last

VERGENNES — When the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Vergennes was founded in 2000 its teen members could take a short stroll across Monkton Road from Vergennes Union High School to the club’s first home, in the National Guard Armory.
If all goes well that walk will be recreated within about three months, just as the school year begins.
The club has agreed to purchase a former medical office on 1.87 acres at 20 Armory Lane, a building that is, according to Google Maps, a three-minute walk from VUHS.
The 3,400-square-foot, one-story building, which includes a rental unit that will provide income to the club, is just a few steps from the Armory, which housed the club until the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, had the side effect of sending club officials scrambling for a new place to welcome members.
For most of the past decade the Boys & Girls Club has rented space on School Street, in the same building that houses Bar Antidote and now the Hired Hand Brewery. 
The club has grown there in the past couple years, but neither that space nor any of its previous homes — including the Masons’ building nearby on School Street and the basement of the Bixby Library, as well as briefer stops — has what 20 Armory Lane can offer, according to Executive Director Jill Strube and board Chairman Jeff Fritz. 
“Our biggest excitement is we’re going to have a yard. There’s almost 2 acres of property,” Strube said. “We’ll be able to have kids go out and play in the yard. We’ll be able to put in soccer goals, baseball or kickball bases. We’re going to try to put up basketball hoops in the parking lot so the kids will have some hoops to shoot at, put out picnic tables in the yard … We can do some gardening with the kids. We’re super excited about having outdoor space.”
There will also be more space indoors, according to Fritz, which he said is a good thing considering average daily attendance has grown in three years from nine to 27, and after renovations in 2016 to the School Street clubhouse overall membership grew from about 80 to 150.
“(At 20 Armory Lane) We are able to expand meeting our goal, which is to reach every child we can, and we can’t do that now because we are out of space,” Fritz said.
The club can make the finances work to buy a building that more recently hosted Tapestry Midwifery, at least in part because of Panton couple Philip and Roberta Puschel, who Fritz called “very generous donors for many years.”
The Puschels have long had a standing offer in place to make a $100,000 down payment for the club on a property, and just added to that an $87,500 matching grant to help fund the transition and needed renovation.
“Without their financial support, and passion for our mission, a permanent home for the club would not be possible,” Fritz said.
Other financial factors are working in the club’s favor, according to Strube. She said the club has enjoyed a good relationship with landlord Hans Vorsteveld, and is currently paying a little more than $2,000 per month in rent. Meanwhile, Hired Hand and Bar Antidote owner Ian Huizenga — according to Fritz and Strube, as Huizenga did not immediately respond to emails seeking comment — will take over the club’s space, and the club can walk away from its lease.
On Armory Lane, tenant Breen Systems will stay on board to provide income after a projected July 2 closing, and Strube said building owners are financing the sale of a property with an asking price of $399,500 with favorable terms.
“They have given us a very generous rate,” Strube said.
Fritz said even with additional costs of ownership — such as insurance, utilities, maintenance and trash and recycling, as well as the mortgage — the club should actually come out around $600 a month ahead on its cash flow.
“We’re, really, really excited about this,” Fritz said.
After the closing in early July, club officials hope to complete renovations — small offices and exam rooms must be transformed into larger spaces for the club’s teen and elementary-age members, including a devoted teen area now lacking — and install a kitchen in time to open to members for the new school year.
“We’ll be removing a lot of the interior walls. We’ll open up the space,” Fritz said.
The club does need a conditional-use zoning permit before work can begin in earnest, but has done homework to prepare for the process. Club officials held a preliminary meeting with the Vergennes Development Review Board on May 21, and Fritz said DRB members made two major recommendations, that a sidewalk be added on the property to connect to city sidewalks and downward-facing lights be installed around the parking area.
The DRB set a public hearing for June 18, and the club falls under the permitted conditional use category of Community Center.
The club also commissioned a traffic study that Fritz said showed the club would generate less traffic than the property’s previous use as a medical office, in part because club members would not drive. Vergennes Union Elementary School members would ride on a bus that already passes the site, or could walk, Strube and Fritz said.
“We feel very confident,” Fritz said, adding, “I think we’re going to present them with a concept everyone will like.”
The club will have to close for most of August to allow for packing and moving a number of items, including new kitchen and laundry appliances, new kitchen cabinets, and the club’s entry cubbies, to Armory Lane — for a re-opening right after Labor Day.
“Hopefully by then the contractors will have finished the renovation and we will be moving in,” Strube said. “We are very excited.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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