PORT ANGELES – A gathering of children said goodbye to the old and hello to the new as Boys & Girls Clubs of the Olympic Peninsula opened the doors to its new Port Angeles clubhouse.
To celebrate the occasion on Friday, Bagpiper Erik Evans of Port Angeles led an entourage of about 20 children and accompanying staff members on a two-block parade from the old clubhouse to the brand new Turner Clubhouse, named for long-time volunteers and benefactors Norma and Gene Turner.
Mary Budke, executive director of Boys & Girls Clubs of the Olympic Peninsula, said having children finally in the new clubhouse was the culmination of years of planning.
“It is like getting to the top of a summit we’ve been climbing for a long time,” she said. “It kind of looks like a club now, doesn’t it?”
Norma Turner, a member of the club’s board of directors and co-chair of the capital campaign for the new clubhouse, was among those waiting for the children to arrive. She said Friday’s opening was a delight.
“That’s the best part, having the kids come,” she said. “The building is beautiful, but it’s got to have kids in it.
“I don’t know who was more excited, the kids or the staff.”
At 15,400 square feet, the new building at Francis Street and Lauridsen Boulevard is twice the size of the previous Port Angeles club facilities, which are ultimately slated for demolition by the Peninsula Housing Authority to make way for additional public housing.
The $8.5 million structure was paid for by fundraising campaigns, donations and grants.
The former clubhouse, repurposed from a pair of low-income housing units, stood mostly empty on Friday as children gathered there for the last time. Most of the furnishings had been moved to the new building on Thursday.
Among those looking after the youngsters on Friday was unit director Ashley Woolsey, who took part in the march to the new clubhouse. She said it was an joyous experience.
“It was kind of bittersweet leaving the old building after so many years,” she said. “But seeing how excited the kids are and all the programs and new activities, it was emotional. I’m overjoyed with the new building.”
Budke said having a bagpiper lead the children down Francis Street completed the circle that began at the groundbreaking ceremony for the new clubhouse in 2019.
On that day, a piper led a similar procession of children armed with toy shovels, who each turned a ceremonial scoop of dirt to mark the start of construction.
The former 7,000-square-foot clubhouse averaged about 135 children a day before COVID-19 restrictions reduced capacity to less than 25 percent. The new building could potentially accommodate up to 375 to 400, although current health guidelines will keep numbers considerably lower — at about 60, according to Gene Turner — for the time being. Foster children are the top priority, followed by special needs children, he said.
All children will wear face masks, except when they are eating the meals provided, and practice social distancing.
The Turner Clubhouse features a game room, a computer lab, a separate area for teens, an art room, study rooms and a commercial kitchen. Also included is a gymnasium — an feature that was never available at the old Port Angeles clubhouse.
Budke said the excitement of the children was palpable as they waited to enter the new clubhouse.
“That has been our place for so long,” she said “And to come into this building and see their reaction, it’s like watching them see Disneyland for the first time.”
Photojournalist Keith Thorpe can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 59050, or at [email protected]