Group pitches $5.5 million community center to school board

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An artist rendering of the HUB Boys and Girls Club and community center.

Freedom Bank President Don Bennett again pitched a new community center and Boys and Girls Club facility to the School District 6 School Board Monday night.

This time, however, the club came prepared with conceptual drawings of the building and a budget. The club first pitched the idea a year ago, but it was put on hold until the school district could figure out its expansion needs for its elementary schools. Now those plans are taking shape and the club could fit in nicely with an expansion project at Ruder Elementary.

The club is hoping to swing a deal with the school district to build the $5.5 million 27,000-square-foot facility adjacent to Ruder Elementary Schoolís gymnasium. The club would include a gym, classrooms and offices. Bennett said the vision would include classes for older folks and offices that could be rented out to other nonprofit organizations, like Big Brothers and Big Sisters.

But for the most part, the facility would operate after-school hours from 3 p.m. into the evening.

Currently the Boys and Girls Club owns an old church on Fourth Avenue that is used for its after-school programs. It also uses the old junior high gym in an agreement with the school district. It recently sold its Evergreen roller rink and no longer has a program there. It serves about 60 kids after school in Columbia Falls.

With the new facility, it could serve about 300 kids, Bennett noted.

Branded as The Hub, the facility would serve more than just kids, itís also envisioned as a community center and could also serve as a gym for Ruder. Right now, Ruder canít hold gym classes during lunch hour, because the gym serves as a cafeteria.

ďOur research in the community has found overwhelming support,Ē Bennett said.

Bennett is not on the board of the Boys and Girls Club, but has long supported the clubís efforts. Years ago, he even did an exhibition boxing match to raise funds for the club. He said heís had contact with major donors who could support the building and he expressed confidence in being able to raise the funds for the building.

Right now, the club is raising more than its spending, Bennett noted.

It has a total operating budget of about $320,000.

By 2021, it projects it will have a budget of about $809,000, as it will see a significant increase in membership fees, to about $177,000.

Itís expected it will cost about $150,000 to $200,000 annually to operate the facility. The school board made no decision on the project, but is expected to take it up at its February meeting.

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