D.C. Council Poised to Pay $20 Million to Buy 3 Boys & Girls Clubs Centers

By Tim Craig and Megan Greenwell
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, June 4, 2009

Members of the D.C. Council said yesterday that they have agreed to spend $20 million to purchase three recreation centers from the financially strapped Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Washington.

The purchases, which must be formally voted on, would salvage popular recreational centers in Georgetown and Columbia Heights and reopen the shuttered Eastern Branch center in Capitol Hill.

"We got a package of three for $20 million, which we think is an excellent deal for our children, an excellent deal for the city and an excellent deal" for the organization, said D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D), noting the city will pay over five years.

After the purchase is completed this year, the city will own the buildings and be responsible for the upkeep. The city has not determined who will run programs at the Frank R. Jelleff Branch, at 3265 S. St. NW in Georgetown; the Mary & Daniel Loughran Clubhouse No. 10, at 2500 14th St. NW in Columbia Heights; and the Eastern Branch, at 261 17th St. SE in Capitol Hill.

The deal offers a financial lifeline to the organization, which was established for low-income youths, and boosts the District's recreational and educational programs.

In 2007, because of budget constraints, the group closed the mammoth Eastern Branch, which had been a pillar of neighborhood life on the edge of Capitol Hill since 1937. In April, facing a $7 million deficit, the Boys & Girls Clubs announced plans to close four additional sites in the Washington region, including the Jelleff Branch.

"This is a really good resolution for all parties," said Denis James, chairman of the Jelleff board. "We'll be able to provide some services that are really needed there."

Not everyone is happy with the council proposal, which appears to have the backing of at least 10 of 13 members. All three facilities are in relatively affluent or gentrifying communities, and some wonder whether the council is overlooking poorer communities.

William Lockridge, the longest-serving member on the city school board, disrupted Gray's news conference because he is furious that the city is not bailing out a clubhouse on Milwaukee Place in Southeast.

"We pay taxes east of the river. We've been left out. We are tired of it," Lockridge yelled.

"You may not like what I've said, but I really don't care," Lockridge shouted, generating nods from several others in the audience. "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."

Gray said the club in Southeast Washington was left out of the deal because there is an agreement to have a local charter school take over its programs.

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

Neighbors United, a community group that formed shortly after the Eastern Branch closed, plans to file a proposal to take over that facility's programs. The group has hired a staff of program coordinators and hopes to start activities at the Eastern Branch this summer.

"There's a real lack of youth programming in Hill East, so we're really excited about creating a flourishing community center," said Becky Claster, vice chair of Neighbors United's board. Neighbors United plans to offer youth and adult sports leagues and art classes, offices for community groups, a day-care center and a community policing office.

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