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Posted at 03:55 PM ET, 06/03/2009

Council Irons $20 Million Deal With Boys & Girls Clubs

Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D) and 10 of his colleagues announced today they have agreed to spend $20 million in taxpayer dollars to purchase three recreation centers from the financially-strapped Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Washington.

After the purchase is completed later this year, the city will own the buildings and be responsible for their upkeep.

The city will also put up for bid the programming that will be conducted at the centers - the Frank R. Jelleff Branch at 3265 S. Street, NW in Georgetown, the Mary & Daniel Loughran Clubhouse #10 at 2500 14th Street NW in Columbia Heights and the Eastern Branch at 261 17th St. SE in Capitol Hill.

The Eastern Branch center will reopen after closing in 2007. In April, the Boys and Girls Clubs announced they will close four additional sites, including the Jelleff Branch, to cope with a $7 million deficit.

Several Council members, who recalled their own childhood experiences with the clubs, said today it was imperative that the city step in to rescue the facilities, all of which are located in relatively affluent or gentrifying sections of the city.

"We got a package of three for $20 million, which we think is an excellent deal for our children, excellent deal for the city and excellent deal for the Boys & Girls club," said Gray, noting the city will pay the $20 million over five years.

As part of the agreement, the city will create a yet-to-be-determined governance structure to oversee the three clubs. The deal was apparently ironed-out behind closed doors. One Council member applauded his colleagues today for keeping the deal secret until the press conference.

"To come here today with all this economic downturn to say the District of Columbia is doing a significant expansion of recreation for young people is extraordinary event," said Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), whose District includes the 14th Street club.

But not everybody is happy.

William Lockridge, the longest-serving member on the city school board, disrupted the press conference because he is furious that the city is not bailing out a Boys & Girls Club in Southeast.

'What about number 11?" Lockridge yelled. "We pay taxes east of the River. We've been left out. We are tired of it."

Gray tried to regain control of the press conference, but Lockridge continued to press his case.

"You may not like what I've said, but I really don't care," Lockridge yelled from the back of the room, as the television cameras zoomed in on him. "But somebody's got to stand up for the people in Southeast and provide us the same opportunities that they provided for other citizens across the city."

Several council members stood with bewildered - actually, scared - looks on their faces during Lockridge's outburst. Gray, visibly upset by the disruption, countered that there is already an agreement in place for a local charter school to take over the center in Southeast.

"What he's talking about? I really don't know," Gray said after the meeting. "It's sold."

But Lockridge maintains there will be a big discrepancy in services between the those that a charter school can provide youths in Southeast compared to city-supported programming that will take place at the other facilities.

--Tim Craig

By  |  03:55 PM ET, 06/03/2009

Categories:  Tim Craig

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