Before the end of the year, members of the Boys & Girls Club of Southwest Missouri will have an expanded and renovated club that will allow for added programs, enrollment and safety.
The youth organization has outgrown its space at 317 Comingo Ave. in Joplin, where enrollment numbers have been increasing steadily over the last six years. The club launched the Growing Great Futures capital campaign three years ago to try to raise the $4 million needed for the project.
Renovations are underway at the existing 8,000-square-foot building, and 13,000 square feet are being added to the back of the structure. The latter will house a teen center, extra program rooms, a kitchen and dining area, restrooms, a room to weather storms and more.
Ground was broken in March. The remodel is tentatively slated for completion by the end of August and the expansion by the fall.
“It’s been moving really fast,” said Rhonda Gorham, executive director of the club in Joplin. “It’s so exciting to see it transform before our eyes. It’s incredible how fast they’re moving on this project.”
Originally, the project wasn’t scheduled to start until after summer, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the club took advantage of the downtime to get the ball rolling. Throughout the construction effort, members have been using a local church for programs while volunteers and the management team have been housed in the Joplin Plaza.
“Our existing space has been remodeled more efficiently, and we didn’t lose any program space by doing it,” Gorham said. “We still have three programming spaces and our gym, so we’ll be able to run in there with a few fine-tunings. This (expansion) is supposed to be done by September.”
The improvements will allow the club to add more members, Gorham said. The organization raised $2.5 million toward the goal. She noted the effort is the organization's first capital campaign since the 1990s.
“Our goal was initially $4 million, but we definitely need a hard $5 million,” Gorham said. “You always run into problems, and we reduced our building (size) a little bit. COVID-19 has really hurt the fundraising aspect. We had some plans to do some targeted fundraisers for capital, but we can no longer do that because of COVID-19. This is what has held us up. If there’s anyone out there who hasn’t had a chance to help but still wants to, we would love to talk to them.”
The extra square footage will allow the club to get rid of its long waiting list for summer enrollment, boost enrollment by hundreds, more than double the program capabilities, and provide more learning opportunities. Long-term goals include offering programs the club has never had before. The club currently only has three and a half rooms for programs but will soon have 10 rooms.
Gorham said the club owns nearly a whole city block, which gives it ample room for outdoor playground space.
“We’ve had the 200-plus waiting list for years,” she said. "We’re going to be able to have new programs, but we’re still dreaming those out. Some on my radar include a music program or a drum line because we’ve never had the extra space. We’ve also had an art room, but now we’ll have a STEM room.”
There’s even a section for social seating where members can sit and watch projected movies. The program rooms will be very open, and one of the rooms will serve as protection during storms or other emergencies.
“This is something that was added to the budget, which cost us $100,000 to add this shelter area,” Gorham said. “It made total sense to not have to take kids from here all of the way up the stairs and outside to the storm shelters. I wanted an indoor room that could act as a shelter.”
The teen center will have computers, a quiet space and a beverage bar to give teens a fun place to hang out. Gorham said they’re hoping to attract more high school students to the center.
Gorham said that with the ongoing pandemic, it’s imperative to have room for social distancing. The club is waiting to hear the area school districts’ back-to-school proposals before enrolling members because they directly affect the organization.
“Temporarily, we’re going to convert our existing gyms into programming space to be able to spread out,” Gorham said. “We’ll chunk them up within three spaces. Plus our dining room’s gone now, so we’re going to take half of that smaller gym and make it a dining room. We’re also probably going to do a lower capacity, which is what we’ve had this summer. We enrolled 115 children and averaged between 80 and 90 a day.”
The 8,000-square-foot building was remodeled from the framing out.
“It will be nice to have a training room again, which was taken away a long time ago because we turned it into programming space for kids,” Gorham said. “We can use it for new staff. It will also be nice to have our offices all right here. Before, we were scattered across the building.”
Gorham said that usually around 250 children are enrolled in the club, but with the additions, it should be able to have 500 members. The kitchen is being slightly repurposed and cleaned to provide cooking programs. The three program rooms could be used as a library, a quiet room and tutoring centers.
“We tried to make every room versatile,” Gorham said. “These rooms are a really nice size.”
The entrances to the existing building will be flipped so the member entrance will be toward the back and the administration entrance toward the front. Parking will also be changed to a one-way route, similar to how schools structure their drop-off and pickup areas.
“We’re going to have a one-way-in, one-way-out parking lot,” Gorham said. “That was a goal, as well, to eliminate the safety hazard in our parking lot because it was a nightmare. Something that happened during this pandemic, we couldn’t allow parents inside, so we did the drop-off and pickup. We’ve really enjoyed it, and so have the families.”
Shawn Parker, superintendent with Crossland Construction, said he’s honored to be leading such a beneficial project for the club.
“I’m real happy to be a part of this project because A, it’s close to home, and B, I already know everybody here,” Parker said. “Rhonda is by far the best client I’ve ever worked for.”