Boys & Girls Club fundraising for new Key West home hits snag

BY PRU SOWERS

KONK LIFE STAFF WRITER

A partnership between Key West and the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Keys Area to renovate a building in Bayview Park to house the club’s afterschool program has run into a funding snag thanks to Hurricane Irma.

The city commission agreed in 2016 that it would contribute $500,000 towards renovating a dilapidated maintenance equipment building in Bayview Park that would become the new program headquarters of the Club. Currently, the afterschool childcare program in Key West is housed in the former Reynolds School building at 1316 Reynolds St. In return, Club officials agreed to raise the rest of the money needed to complete the renovation, including installing restrooms, new floors and walls. The estimate for the whole project was $2.6 million.

But so far, the Club has raised approximately $125,000, according to Club Executive Director Dan Dombroski, far short of the hoped-for $2.1 million that would finish the project. The capital campaign the Club had hoped to launch was derailed by Hurricane Irma, he said.

“I think it will probably take a year to 18 months,” Dombroski said about how long he estimates it will take the Club to raise the money. “But I don’t really know. It could be longer. It could be shorter.”

But city officials decided they couldn’t wait any longer to begin the renovations. On Feb. 11, commissioners voted to award a $518,315 contract to Pedro Falcon Electrical Contractors to begin the structural renovations. Key West Assistant City Manager Greg Veliz said the city needs to protect the building.

“We’ve waited a long time but we’ve got to get it done. I don’t think it will make it through another hurricane season,” he said.

City Commissioner Margaret Romero raised the possibility of the city backing out of the deal with the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Keys Area. How much more time should the city give the Club to raise the matching funds, she asked.

“Is this something we now need to start looking at and say, hey, maybe this is where we need to put some maintenance equipment? Where are we going with this? How long are we going to keep it holding,” she said.

But that drew a swift objection from Commissioner Sam Kaufman, who said he had faith in the Club to raise the money it said it would.

“I know it’s taking time. But we’ve made a commitment to the Boys & Girls Club and the community. We know how important affordable day care is. We know how important this agency is,” he said. The subsequent vote to award the contract to Pedro Falcon Electrical Contractors was unanimous.

Bill Archer, board president of the Club, said the organization stopped charging its clients for the after-school program after Hurricane Irma in order to help families with post-storm finances. A Saturday class was added as well as a night event for teenagers, he said, describing the Club’s post-Irma efforts.

The Club’s two buildings in Big Pine Key were destroyed by the storm and approximately 100 children now travel to Key West for after-school activities. The Club will continue offering its program for free until approximately April 1, Dombroski said.

The Club also donated $80,000 worth of free appliances to families after Irma. But now it is time to “start focusing” on the capital campaign for the Bayview Park building project, Dombroski said. Archer said he had begun meeting with potential donors in the last few weeks.

“We’re moving forward now fairly quickly,” he said.