Kids offered more at club’s new Vergennes home

VERGENNES — After spending about five afternoons each at the new home of Boys & Girls Club of Greater Vergennes, 15-year-old members Renee Marshall and Bethany Cram both gave it thumbs-up reviews.
On a warm Monday after school the two friends from Vergennes were relaxing on the lawn of the club’s new 20 Armory Lane headquarters — and lounging in a yard was something they couldn’t do back at the group’s old clubhouse on School Street, where each had hung out regularly for at least the past two years.
“We can just go outside and lie down,” Marshall said. “Every time we go outside we don’t just have to sit and stay there, stay on the porch.”
“Or we can play a basketball game with our friends,” Cram said, pointing out the new hoop nearby where the lawn meets the paved parking lot. In all, the club’s 3,400-square-foot, one-story building (that includes a side unit that provides the club rental income) sits on 1.87 acres.
And, they said, the inside has both shared space for teen and younger members, such as game, computer, multi-purpose and dining rooms, but also a separate teen space with comfy furniture and more gaming consoles, plus a small, quiet library tucked in the building’s back corner.
The School Street clubhouse had been nicely renovated, but it was smaller and with an open layout. In the club’s new home Marshall and Cram both like not only the roominess, but also the option of quiet or private spaces.
Marshall said they enjoy acting as role models for younger members, but also want time for themselves. Now she feels more “independent” at the club, freer to make choices.
“There are a lot more places to chill out, to do our homework and calm down when we want to be alone,” Marshall said.
Cram said she feels the same way.
“I really like how much more room we have, and we have more to do,” Cram said. “Like the areas where we can just hang out with our friends. It’s much quieter. We do have to set a good example for the little kids, but they have their space.”
RENE MARSHALL, LEFT, Bethany Cram and Mya Provencher sit in the library in the new Boys and Girls Club of Greater Vergennes clubhouse, which features a more flexible layout.
Independent photo/Trent Campbell
Of course, starting on the new site’s Sept. 10 opening day they could also just walk across the road from Vergennes Union High School.
And that means the club after 18 years has come full circle: It opened in 2000 in the nearby National Guard Armory, only to lose that home when the terrorists struck on 9/11. After several other stops for most of the past decade the Boys & Girls Club has rented space on School Street, in the same building that now houses Bar Antidote and the Hired Hand Brewery.
The club had been growing there, but that space could not match 20 Armory Lane, a former medical office, according to club Executive Director Jill Strube.
“Everyone who has come through the door has just been blown away,” Strube said. “And the kids have raved about the space.”
Despite paying $375,000 for a building that needed renovations to become a youth clubhouse, Strube said the club is coming out ahead financially.
A big factor is the generosity of Panton couple Philip and Roberta Puschel, who for several years had a standing offer in place to make a $100,000 down payment toward a clubhouse. They then made a further donation of $87,500 for renovations, once the community met the condition of matching it.
The sign outside the clubhouse understandably dubs it “The Puschel Center.”
BOYS AND GIRLS Club of Greater Vergennes volunteer Karen Quigley, left, helps Kira Emmons, 11, with her spelling homework at the club’s new headquarters Tuesday afternoon. The new clubhouse opened on Sept. 10.
Independent photo/Trent Campbell
Then the club’s effort to match their second offer raised $117,662, including a $25,000 anonymous gift and another gift of stock worth more than $5,000. All were personal donations, not foundation grants, per the Puschels’ terms.
“The support was amazing,” Strube said. “We are affectionately known at the BGCA (Boys & Girls Club of America) as the little club that could. Everybody has heard our story and is basically just blown away at what we were able to do in six weeks.”
Thus, even though there were surprises in the renovations — a series of heating, air conditioning and hot-water heater issues added $14,000 to the tab — the club still came out ahead.
There is the rental income: Tenant Breen Systems is staying on board, and club officials said the previous building owners financed the purchase with favorable terms. Earlier this summer Boys & Girls’ club president Jeff Fritz estimated when the dust settled the club would be ahead about $600 a month in its cash flow.
And that doesn’t take into account the benefits to the members, Strube said, and the club. For one thing, attendance is already running ahead of the end of the past school year, and new members are signing on.
“We opened with a bang. The first day we had 26 kids, and by Wednesday we had 35 kids,” Strube said. “We were hovering in the low 20s (in daily attendance), so to get up to 35 was amazing. And we’ve gotten 10 new members in the last week-and-half since we opened. Kids keep coming in … The kids seem to love the building.”
And the yard.
“Kids have gone out and played basketball. Kids have played foursquare. They’re kicking soccer balls around on the lawn. We’ve had the hula hoops out,” Strube said.
THE NEW BOYS and Girls Club of Greater Vergennes clubhouse is the first ever owned by the organization.
Independent photo/Trent Campbell
The heating and ventilation glitches did delay the opening from Sept. 4 to the 10th, but Strube was full of praise for main contractor Black Diamond Builders Inc. of Brandon and HVAC company J.W. and D.E. Ryan Plumbing & Heating Inc., both of which she said worked on a “time and materials” basis because of the club’s nonprofit status.
The only other glitch is the extra spaces make supervision a little trickier, and so far the club has not been able to fill a vacant part-time program assistant position.
“We’re really known for one-on-one connection with our kids daily. And right now we’re understaffed,” she said.
But in the long run Strube believes the club will grow successfully at 20 Armory Lane. Nearby elderly housing offers a chance for the club to establish mentoring and foster grandparenting programs, and if necessary the building structure is sound enough to allow the club to expand into a second floor.
“It’s a launching point for bigger and better things. Now we have a stable home. We have a sustainable mortgage that we can pay, so I think now we can build on what we have,” Strube said. “Five years from now I think this place will be bigger and better than ever.”
The Boys & Girls Club of Greater Vergennes has scheduled an open house at 20 Armory Lane for Thursday, Oct. 11, from 5:30-7 p.m.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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