In their search for a new Boys & Girls Club of Bulloch County location, the club’s adult leaders have asked the Board of Education for the old Sallie Zetterower Elementary School campus on East Jones Avenue at Gentilly Road.
“We need a facility. We need a facility for the future, because we are at risk right now,” Russell Rosengart, Boys & Girls Club board president, told the Bulloch County Board of Education at its Sept. 10 meeting.
Through the year, the Boys & Girls Club of Bulloch County provides after-school and summer activities and supplemental education to about 400 children and teens each day.
Currently, the club’s only usable facility is a 20,000-square-foot leased portion of a warehouse complex off Denmark Street in Statesboro. The club owns a purpose-built 9,000-square-foot gym nearby, which was its former teen center. But a fire in February left the teen center gym unusable, and after the insurance settlement fell short of the estimated $475,000 rebuilding cost, Boys & Girls Club leaders began planning to use the $325,000 from insurance as a nest egg in a fund drive for a new building.
Meanwhile, as Rosengart noted, the warehouse is listed for sale by a local real estate agency.
“We don’t own it, and the whole entire complex is up for sale,” Rosengart said. “That makes me nervous, you know. It is actively listed. There have been people that have come through there. If it’s sold, we have nowhere to go.”
Even before the fire, the club was unable to take in all the children whose parents sought its services. The club first opened its doors in August 2001. Membership peaked several years ago, when about 750 boys and girls were enrolled, but that was before a grant ended that had provided an after-school program in Portal, and other cutbacks.
Ties to school system
With other grants, the club’s funding has now recovered to provide a budget of $850,000 in 2015, and an expected budget of $1.2 million for 2016.
Making their pitch to the school board, Rosengart and two staff members emphasized the club’s existing ties with the Bulloch County Schools. They also brought a report showing positive correlations between the number of days club members attend the after-school program and their grades and attendance at school.
The club operates a 21st Century Community Learning Center after-school program serving 86 students. In cooperation with the school system, the club also receives 209 more children for additional activities after they participate in 21st CCLC grant-funded after-school instruction at Langston Chapel Elementary School.
Another 145 regular members not in those two programs brings the club’s after-school membership to 440 students ages 5-18.
The club’s 2014-15 impact report showed that 93 percent of the children served are from families with incomes below the poverty level, and 61 percent are from single-parent households. African-American children make up 80 percent of the membership.
The club charges only “nominal fees,” and two-thirds of members’ families pay nothing at all, said Boys & Girls Club Executive Director Mike Jones.
“We don’t let income be that barrier,” he said “We are serving the children that need a place to be.”
Staff members provide homework assistance and daily science, math and technology activities, as well as recreation, arts and crafts.
Raushanah Oglesby, a teacher with an Education Specialist degree, is the club’s “unit director” in charge of daily activities. She listed programs organized for members last summer, including a jogging club, a cooking club, a science, technology, engineering and math club, chess camps, a golf team, and in cooperation with Georgia Southern University, swimming lessons.
“That’s what we do at the Boys & Girls Club,” she said. “We make a difference in lives, and we want you to help us continue to build that relationship by being able to serve more kids. And how can we do that? By having more space.”
The old school
Replaced by the current Sallie Zetterower Elementary School in 2011, the old campus has been on the market for several years. Manack Signature Properties lists the eight acres, occupied by 55,000 square feet of buildings, for $1.6 million. The firm on its website describes the site, if the buildings were removed, as having a number of potential uses, such as a “tremendous adult residential development with mixed use commercial/retail along its frontage.”
But with the buildings left in place, “perhaps the highest and best use is a church/school or institution seeking classrooms, cafeteria, gym, parking and playground green space,” Manack advertises.
Boys & Girls Club officials do not want all of the existing buildings, at least not for the long term.
“If you were to grant us the opportunity to acquire the Sallie Zetterower facility, through other grant opportunities we would be able to build a new facility, a larger facility that would enable us to serve more children, stop turning children away.” Jones told the school board.
In an interview, Jones said the club is interested in possibly using the existing gymnasium and an eight-sided building that was added for kindergarten and prekindergarten classes. These are relatively new parts of the school, whose main classroom building went up in 1954, said Paul Webb, chief operations officer for the Bulloch County Schools.
He said he knows of “no structural issues” with the gym. What portions of the complex remain in usable condition could depend on the intended use, said Webb and Superintendent Charles Wilson.
As with other unused buildings, the school has been out of rotation for regular preventative maintenance for several years, Webb said.
Jones suggested that if the club were allowed to use the campus, it could still be available for the school system to expand its alternative school program or relocate the Head Start preschool.
“Our building lies dormant during the day,” he said. “It would be a great opportunity to work out a collaborative partnership on usage of the facility.”
The Boys & Girls Club does not insist on owning the property and could be open to a lease arrangement, Rosengart added.
School board members asked some questions but made no commitment Sept. 10.
Despite their expressed concerns about the warehouse location being for sale, club officials said they do not expect to have the necessary funding to build a new facility for several years. They have talked to county government and Statesboro city officials about applying for Community Development Block Grants on behalf of the club.
At the club’s annual fundraising dinner last week, Jones told supporters to expect a special capital fund drive to begin soon. Earlier this year, he estimated the cost of a new building at $2.5 million.
Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458