PORT ANGELES — Shovelfuls of dirt were turned over at a groundbreaking ceremony for a new Boys & Girls Clubs clubhouse, among them those wielded by 130 children led by a bagpiper’s celebratory tones.
The boys and girls who give purpose to the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Olympic Peninsula carried the small red, white, blue and green shovels past more than 100 well-wishing adults at the Lauridsen Boulevard-Francis Street site.
They dug into one pile of dirt and deposited it on another mound to mark the beginning of the club’s new beginning.
“Today marks the end of one four-year road of planning, design, fundraising, begging and making friends,” board President Steve Deutermann, the first speaker, told the crowd that sat and stood in the late-afternoon sun.
“It is the entrance to a road that will take 10 months, after which we will be able to welcome our kids and the 180 kids that are wait-listed to get into this place.”
The building is expected to open in early 2020.
Organizers said the Port Angeles unit of the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Olympic Peninsula is barely big enough to accommodate the average daily attendance of between 130 and 180 children ages 6-18 who can attend — and eat meals. Membership, which costs $30 a year, although no one is turned way for inability to pay, is 400.
The club represents “something very important” to working families, to children who have challenges and to children who have no home, Deutermann said.
Following him was 24th District state Rep. Mike Chapman of Port Angeles. The former Clallam County commissioner’s constituents live in Clallam and Jefferson counties and the northern half of Grays Harbor County.
Boys & Girls Clubs organizers have credited Chapman and fellow 24th District legislators Rep. Steve Tharinger of Port Townsend and state Sen. Kevin Van De Wege of Sequim for spurring lawmakers’ approval earlier this year of a $575,000 state Department of Commerce grant for the project.
The $6.9 million, 16,500-square-foot facility, which will include a new gym, will replace a 7,000-square-foot clubhouse at nearby 2620 S. Francis St., located in two converted Peninsula Housing Authority residential units.
The children marched from there to the new site, leased for $1 a year for 99 years from the Housing Authority.
Chapman, touting state lawmakers’ recent accomplishments, said the children will be able to get free tuition at Peninsula College and other community colleges starting next September.
“That’s going to be a game-changer for our community,” Chapman said, citing the ongoing William Shore Memorial Pool improvement project and the planned Port Angeles Waterfront Center as developments that Port Angeles residents can to look forward to in the near future.
“This town is going to have a lot of shine,” he said.
Clallam County Commissioner Randy Johnson, an Olympic Peninsula YMCA board member, called Friday “an absolutely fantastic day” in light of the shortage of after-school and summer programs for children.
“It’s such a wonderful thing, the people that had the vision to think about where we are going with this project, and most of all, that continue to go there with all the difficulties and setbacks,” he said.
“They all coalesced, as did the entire community, to make this happen, to go forward with this project.”
Port Angeles City Council member Mike French said council members are “really proud” of the new facility.
“There’s probably no better return on investment than investing in kids and families,” he said.
“We are very happy to see this move forward, and keep investing in our kids.”
Kay Kassinger, the housing authority’s executive director, ‘made this piece of dirt we are stranding on possible,” Boys & Girls Clubs CEO Mary Budke said as she introduced Kassinger and other speakers.
Kassinger was “a huge partner for us in helping navigate through the system and making sure we have a place to call home for our club,” Budke said.
Kassinger approached Boys & Girls Clubs organizers years ago about a new facility, Budke said.
The existing clubhouse and the Housing Authority’s low-income residential homes at Mount Angeles View at the site are being replaced with 232 new homes.
“She said, ‘we need a new Boys & Girls Club, and we need it now,” Budke recalled.
“I brought my dollar,” Budke joked before Kassinger spoke.
Kassinger lauded the Port Angeles unit of the Boys & Girls Club’s “strong and enduring relationship” with the Housing Authority, the neighborhood and the broader community.
“They’ve been bursting at the seams for years,” Kassinger said.
A new Boys & Girls Club was part of the Housing Authority’s master-plan vision for the overall site beginning in 2009, she said.
“Today, we are breaking ground on that vision,” Kassinger said.
“While I’m proud of the new housing recently completed,” she said, “the construction start of a new Boys & girls Club is one of our agency’s greatest achievements for this community.”’
Capital campaign organizer and Boys & Girls Club board member Norma Turner said contributions are still needed for the new facility.
The $6.72 million already raised includes $3.2 million in grants and $1.7 million in pledges.
Final funding needs are being calculated for costs such as furniture and a playground. Most fundraising has concentrated on donations of $25,000 or more.
Residents might think, “So now, we’re here, and it’s all done, and gee, I meant to give, but now it’s too late, they don’t need my donation,’” Turner said.
“Wrong. You are lucky. You are still welcome to donate.”
Addison Holland, Boys & Girls Club Youth of the Year and a club member for 12 years, closed out the program.
Like Jennifer Lopez, Cuba Gooding, Bill Walton, Lou Piniella and Dan Wilder Sr., Holland, 18, is known as a “Club Kid.”
“Being a Club Kid has been an amazing experience,” Holland said.
“It has pushed me to thrive and be successful.
“It has made me the person I am today, and I just want to say thank you to all of you guys who have supported and worked hard to make this day happen.
“I don’t think I would ever be here without the family I have built at the club, and every one of these kids has the same opportunity to be successful and are pushed, you know, to be really good people.”
Budke also heads the newer, larger Sequim Boys & Girls Club clubhouse.
She brought with her two shovels used in the groundbreaking in Port Angeles’ sister city two decades ago, and not used since then.
One will stay in Port Angeles, linking two new beginnings.
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].