KINGSPORT — The new Kingsport Boys and Girls Club is officially open for business and plans to hold a grand opening event later this week to show off its new, state-of-the-art facility.
The club’s 44,000-square-foot facility is located behind Pratt’s and Texas Roadhouse on Stone Drive. Work began at the site in the spring of 2007, and according to Chuck Owens, executive director of the club, the facility officially opened on Aug. 11.
“It’s been an interesting journey ... a very difficult journey, but it was worth it when you opened up the club and saw the kids come running up and giving you a hug,” Owens said. “When they saw the place, the word has been ‘Awesome.’”
The grand opening will take place at noon Thursday at the new club and will include guest speaker Bruce Pearl, head coach of the University of Tennessee’s men’s basketball team.
John Buckles, president of the Boys and Girls Club, said the new facility is outstanding, and he is pleased with how it turned out.
“It’s a beautiful facility, and it’s really going to serve the youth of Kingsport tremendously over the next 50 years,” Buckles said.
The club served about 240 children a day at its Lee Street facility, with nearly 90 percent coming from low-income homes. Owens said the new facility is licensed by the state to serve 325 children per day. Since opening two weeks ago, the club has averaged 160 children a day.
“Which is below capacity, but we’re having some issues relating to transportation from the various schools to the club, and hopefully we’ll have that resolved in another week to two weeks,” Owens said, noting when that happens the average daily attendance will increase significantly. “We have room. If parents can get their children to the club, they can now join the club and participate on a daily basis.”
The new facility is 14,000 square feet larger than the old facility and will include technology areas, a fitness center, an improved woodworking program, two full-sized basketball gyms, a playground, golf training area, a baseball field, football field and putting green.
Owens said at this time no fields are available, but club officials are in the process of developing the two fields. Last week contractors performed electrical work and work on the irrigation system at the football field, while the club waits on the sod to arrive. The scoreboard has been ordered, and the goalposts (which are sitting in the parking lot) need to be installed.
The baseball field will be worked on during this time as well, and Owens said the club is in the final stage of creating the details for the putting green.
The facility is divided into pods specific to children of certain ages: first-floor pods for 6- and 7-year-olds, 8 and 9, 10 to 12, and a pod on the second floor for teens. Each has separate program areas with restroom facilities.
Each pod has its own game areas, cultural arts areas and computer rooms. The younger children will be able to sit or perform on a raised stage with steps and play on various game boards built in the floor (tic-tac-toe, checkers and hopscotch).
The older children will have access to microwave ovens and mini-fridges in a lounge area.
Owens said the club has relocated nearly everything from the old facility, but some desks, file cabinets, financial records and correspondence still need to be moved.
The computers for the facility’s three technology centers need to be relocated and installed, which should be done in the next two to three weeks, Owens said. Other items, such as some exercise bikes, Dance Dance Revolution equipment and scoreboards, have been ordered but have not arrived yet.
“We probably have about 5 percent of the stuff still at the old facility. We’re in the process of relocating it almost on a daily basis,” Owens said. “It’s not 100 percent finished, but it’s pretty close.”
The club has until Jan. 11, 2009, to leave its old facility.
The club’s new gyms sport six retractable basketball goals, a treadwall, exercise equipment, a concessions area, and room for bleachers on one side. The facility will also house an indoor golf training facility, made possible by a donation from local businessman Bill Taft. City and club officials have said the gyms would likely be used in connection to AAU basketball tournaments that periodically come to the Model City.
Security is also a major concern at the new facility. Exterior doors at the pods will have alarms and sensors to alert club officials taht the doors have been opened. In addition, 35 security cameras have been placed inside and outside the facility, which will be monitored from the administrative office and clerk’s desk.
“We’ve got to get used to this. This is a Cadillac,” Owens said. “It has all the bells and whistles, and it’s going to take a good six months to a year for the staff to get acclimated to really operate this facility at top efficiency.”
The Boys and Girls Club received $5.2 million from Wellmont Health System for the purchase of the club’s current facility and land. Wellmont plans to convert the property into a new entranceway to Holston Valley Medical Center as part of its $100 million expansion and renovation project under way.
The city of Kingsport entered into an agreement with the club back in October where the city would pay the club $100,000 a year over the next four years and the club would allow Kingsport Leisure Services, Kingsport City Schools, the Kingsport Convention and Visitors Bureau, and other city and affiliate organizations to utilize space in the new facility.
The club has raised more than $2.3 million but still needs about $150,000 to put it over the top. Owens said pledges for the project could be donated immediately or over a five-year period.
“We’re down to needing about $150,000, but I could use $200,000,” Owens said jokingly. “We really have not been doing any asks for the last six to eight months. We were spending 110 percent of our time finishing the building and getting open.”
Buckles said he thinks the club will raise the $150,000 in the next two to three months.
“We’re going to continue to go after it, and I’ll think we’ll get it,” he said.