At the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District school board meeting Thursday, April 19th, the board received an update on the proposed construction of a Boys & Girls Club of Santa Monica Youth Program Facility at John Adams Middle School.

In February 2003, the board approved a ten-year lease of space at John Adams to the club.

In May 2005, the school district committed $300,000 to the project.

But not much has been heard about the project since that time.

“I think one of the most critical components of the next step in the plan is developing a joint-use agreement,” interim chief financial officer (CFO) Stephen Hodgson said at the meeting. “The hope would be that subsequent to the development of a joint-use agreement… the project would ultimately qualify for state funding somewhere in the neighborhood of $800,000.”

Since 2003, the estimated cost of the project has gone up to about $2.6 million dollars, said Hodgson. It had originally been about $700,000, according to Megan Wadley, director of development for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Santa Monica.

The club has already raised $1.7 million in private funding and has also submitted a grant application to the city for one-time funding of $300,000, Wadley said.

The youth facility is planned to be 5,563 square feet, attached to classroom 101 at John Adams, and will serve children ages seven to 18, Wadley said.

Once the facility is constructed, the club is expected to take over operational costs, maintain the facility and staff it.

The design of the building, which was donated by Killefer Flammang Architects in Santa Monica, has already been approved by the Division of the State Architect, Wadley said.

The facility is to be attached to John Adams, but will be right across the street from Will Rogers Learning Facility and will also serve its students.

Both schools are in the Pico Neighborhood, and that is “where we need these services for kids,” said Wadley.

“From the reports put out by the City of Santa Monica, we were prompted that this area, the Pico Neighborhood, needed help, and thatís why we chose to put a club in this area.”

In the Santa Monica-Malibu district as a whole, 25 percent of students receive free or reduced-price lunches, Wadley said. But at John Adams, 41 percent of students are on free or reduced lunches and at Will Rogers it is 61 percent.

Aside from affordable meals, affordable childcare is also necessary for many families in the area, Wadley said.

The fee per year for children to use the youth facility would be $10, “but if a kid doesnít have the money, they can just work a few hours around the club and earn the membership for the year,” Wadley said. “The fact that itís affordable is really important.”

Wadley predicts that about 2,000 youngsters would go through the facility on a regular basis.

It will be a “drop-in” program, meaning that there is no commitment needed. A youngster would be able to come to the club just one day a week or five days a week — as infrequently or as frequently as necessary. Additionally, they wonít have to be enrolled in the school district to become a member, Wadley said.

“We just want to reach as many kids as humanly possible,” Wadley said.

At the board meeting, Hodgson said itís important that the district have an understanding of the project and make sure it is compatible with the childcare programs the district already offers.

“I think we all believe this is a good program,” he said.

Hodgson said the next step is to bring back a joint-use agreement to the school board for approval, but “we wanted to make sure to give you some background information tonight,” he said.

“I think this is great that this has come back before us,” said school board president Kathy Wisnicki. “Itís a really good opportunity to provide services to our students on the John Adams campus.”

Still, some people, including district director of Child Development Services Judy Abdo, were concerned that adding the youth program would eliminate district childcare programs if Will Rogers Learning Community took part in the clubís program.

Abdo said the youth facility would have “huge ramifications for city and elementary programs if Will Rogers is a part of itÖ. Theyíd [Boys & Girls Club of Santa Monica] take over all the after-school programs.”

But school district superintendent Dianne Talarico did not see it this way.

“I really hope that we can all talk about what the obstacles may be and that we can not see this as anything competitive or taking away from,” Talarico said. “People who have expressed concerns this evening really need to have a conversation with me with all the team players in the room so we can flush this out and come up with a win-win, because weíre not going to deny services to children that need them.”

Wadley said that it was her understanding that the youth program would not eliminate any after-school programming that already exists unless the district wanted it that way.

“When you look at the Pico Neighborhood, both Will Rogers and John Adams, Santa Monica and your own district have said that these kids are in poverty and need all the help that they can get and thereís 2,000 kids in that area,” she said. “Weíre only able to serve about 30 kids with the space that we have at John Adams (currently).

“I mean, I think the need is so great that thereís not enough programs that could be offered.

“We couldnít build a building big enough to provide before- and after-school programming that these kids absolutely need. I donít think thereís enough programming that could be offered. To have this location, I think it would be a shame to pass it up. I really do.”

Wadley said she is confident that the youth facility will happen.

“Hopefully weíll be able to break ground by August or September,” Wadley said. “Not soon enough for me. And of course we have a backup plan. Assuming the school district wants us to go forward with the project, we definitely will find a way to make it happen.”