Ten years ago, the recreational facilities in Manassas's Dean Park were sketches on a planning map. The park's two softball diamonds, the bike path along Winters Brook, the parking lot--all were little more than the dotted lines of an architect's imagination.
In the past decade, most of those dotted lines have been filled in with dirt and asphalt, bikes and softballs. Yet the recreation center planned for the middle of the park is still a sketch--and with funds diverted toward the creation of the Freedom Aquatic and Fitness Center, a joint venture among Manassas, Prince William County and George Mason University that is set to open in September, the planned Dean Park recreation center seemed destined to remain a dotted line on a site plan.
Perhaps no longer. The Prince William Boys and Girls Club has gained the support of the school system and the Manassas City Council to build a facility on the grassy flat section of Dean Park that the Department of Parks and Recreation had once hoped would house a public recreation center.
"This is supported by parents, kids, the school system, the city, everyone," said Vincent Borello, executive director of Prince William Boys and Girls Clubs. "The city of Manassas is in for the treat of its life."
The idea for a Manassas Boys and Girls Club was initiated by the local Kiwanis Club. Borello said he received a petition with 1,000 signatures from community residents trying to persuade Prince William Boys and Girls Clubs to build a third facility in Manassas, and the Kiwanis Club has pledged more than $100,000 for the project.
The total cost of construction will be $2 million. Fund-raising is set to begin in September, after public hearings are held and provided the City Council approves site plans. Groundbreaking is expected by next May, and the facility is expected to be opened by the summer of 2001.
During a discussion of the proposed club at Wednesday's City Council meeting, city officials warmed to the idea of a new recreational center aimed at preteens. The Boys and Girls Club, which will target children ages 10 to 12, will not compete with the new Freedom center, which requires members to be at least 12 years old.
"I think it will really help to have a positive center for youth activity," City Manager Lawrence D. Hughes said. "Manassas has a large population of latch-key kids. It will help their education to be supervised after school."
The proposed 35,000-square-foot club will be modeled after the Hylton Boys and Girls Club in Dale City. The Hylton club's spacious game room entertains hundreds of children with bumper pool, Foosball and air hockey. Its two gymnasiums are used for basketball, volleyball and wrestling. The building's second floor houses a library, a $30,000 computer cluster and an exercise room.
The Manassas club also may include an outdoor pavilion and a water park, Borello said.
During the school year, Boys and Girls Clubs hold classes in arts and crafts, offer one-on-one tutoring and provide quiet study space. And before members can take advantage of Super Nintendo or Web TV, they must do at least one hour of homework.
Annual membership is $15.
"Where else can you go for $15 a year to build self-esteem, citizenship, friendships?" Borello asked.
Borello said the actual annual cost per member is $250. Most of that is paid through government funds, private donations and fund-raising events.
The Hylton club employs 14 full-time staff members but depends on hundreds of volunteers to supervise the approximately 1,100 youths, ranging from 7 to 17 years old, it serves each day. For an additional fee, the club offers before- and after-school care and a summer camp.
"The Boys and Girls Club is the best friend these youths have," said Borello, 36, who calls himself a product of the Boys and Girls Clubs. He grew up in a depressed area of Utica, N.Y., and he said the club kept him off the streets and out of trouble. "If we don't want big-city crime to come here, we have to give our kids an option to delinquency and violence."
While the Hylton Club and a second club in Dumfries do serve some low-income families, they are not aimed at at-risk youths. According to Borello, 90 percent of members come from families with two working parents.
The Manassas club is projected to have a membership of close to 3,000, and will be within walking distance of Jennie Dean Elementary School and the Wellington housing community. Joseph Johnson, chairman of the Manassas school board, has already pledged his support to the club in a letter addressed to the City Council.
Borello said the club is a blessing to Manassas. "This is a win-win situation for everyone involved."
CAPTION: Joey Jewell, 9, reads in the club's library. Manassas is planning its own club.
CAPTION: Eight-year-olds Michelle Martini, left, and Amber Horner entertain themselves in the facility's computer lab.
CAPTION: Chelsea Davis, 10, plays pool at the Boys and Girls Club in Dale City.