The Boys & Girls Club of Greater Lowell celebrates groundbreaking on renovation and expansion project – Lowell Sun | Wonder Mind Kids

LOWELL — As he sat in his office at Greater Lowell’s Boys & Girls Club on Wednesday morning, executive director Joe Hungler heard saws cutting through the concrete in the old boys’ locker room.

It was like music to his ears.

The club is in the midst of a large-scale renovation and expansion project called “Believe & Become” which aims, among other things, to fill the old pool to create a larger cafeteria for 600 children and 450 meals – double their current one Capacity and meals provided.

Community members and leaders gathered around the pool at the building, which has been out of service for nearly 15 years, on Wednesday night to celebrate the launch of this phase of the project.

They’ve raised nearly $11.5 million for Phase 1, Hungler said, and the billiards room should be complete by April 2023.

Although it was difficult to get rid of the pool that many Lowellians learned to swim in, Hungler said it fits their mission perfectly. The Boys & Girls Club partners with the YMCA, which has a pool, he said, and it’s more important that kids can all eat together in one place rather than taking food shifts like they do now.

“We know that poor children learn to swim much less often than children with more means, and we can solve that a little bit by having a pool,” Hungler said in an interview. “We can solve many problems by creating generations of children who are not poor.”

The club serves 8-18 year olds, so it’s also imperative that all children feel welcome and safe in the space, Hungler said. For this reason, Phase 1 of the project includes an addition to the Teen Center, complete with a separate entrance for teenagers.

Phase 2 will add a new kitchen to the building and undertake further renovations, while Phase 3 will undertake exterior improvements, all due to be completed by summer 2025. As the project will be completed in phases, Hungler said they intend to remain open. Overall, he said it will cost around $19 million, but they expect that number to increase due to construction costs.

“I think it’s one of the largest campaigns that Lowell has ever seen that relies on individual fundraising outside of large nonprofit organizations like the hospital and the university,” Hungler said.

Trustees Mark Gilchrist thanked the project leaders for their “unwavering commitment” to the Believe & Become campaign, which was paused early in the pandemic. Now, Gilchrist said it’s time they all stood up because it’s “going to take a whole village”.

“The Boys & Girls Club of Greater Lowell is a place where every dollar, every support, every contribution quickly makes a demonstrable difference,” said Gilchrist. “When you give, these kids see it right away.”

Most members of Lowell City Council, including Mayor Sokhary Chau, attended the event. Councilor Paul Ratha Yem said his two boys regularly attend the Boys & Girls Club where they play sports and instruments.

Yem said the club is an integral part of the city, especially as it is located in “Cambodia Town”.

“We want to support the Boys & Girls Club and make sure it becomes an important part of this neighborhood,” Yem said. “This development will have a major impact.”

State Senator Ed Kennedy agreed, stating that the young people who live in Lowell will benefit greatly from the new and improved facilities.

“This is a big project and I know[Hungler]has been working day and night to raise the money,” Kennedy said. “It’s always difficult to raise the money, especially in these times, during the pandemic and whatnot, but he’s sticking with it.”

When he went to open the facility’s front door on Tuesday, Hungler said he turned the key and the lock broke. That’s just one way the building shows its age.

“A lot of this makes the space more ready for the needs of today compared to the needs of 50 years ago,” Hungler said in an interview. “The building itself is in good bones, but its systems have reached the end of their useful life.”

Local residents can keep track of construction progress by visiting a real-time construction camera at believe.lbgc.org.

According to the club, one in five Lowell children is at risk of starvation, and more than 20% of students at Lowell Public Schools will not graduate. Hungler said her goal is to end “generational poverty” in the city.

“We want to make sure we’re giving our children and youth the tools and access they need to have equal opportunities for a future,” Hungler said. “Our children are just as smart, just as hard-working. You just need a level playing field.”

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