AVON PARK - The Boys & Girls Club of Highlands County is seeking a more permanent foothold in its Avon Park location to serve more children and eventually construct permanent buildings.
After school, dozens of students arrived at the club's location north of the track at Memorial Field Wednesday afternoon to do their homework, get help with their schooling or to play with their friends in a safe environment.
Boys & Girls Club Director of Community Relations Wally Randall and the club's board of directors want to be able to accommodate more children in permanent structures.
Randall explained the club's short-term and long-term plans Tuesday to the School Board of Highlands County.
When the Boys & Girls Club initially opened seven years ago in Avon Park it was geared to serve about 35 children, he said. This past year the club had more than 250 applications from just elementary school-aged kids.
The club currently has two portable buildings with a deck between them, Randall said. The Avon Park Lakes Baptist Church is giving the club three portable classrooms, which will be used to expand on an interim basis.
The club hopes to build two permanent buildings, one to serve elementary students and the other for middle and high school students.
"Having a large enough space will also allow us to set up tutoring areas and we can do even a better job of preparing our kids for school because education is the key to your future," Randall said.
But a permanent home for the Boys & Girls Club will require a reworking of agreements among the club, the city of Avon Park and the School Board of Highlands County.
Randall explained to the board that The Boys & Girls Club of Highlands County has an arrangement with the city of Avon Park to utilize the area at 217 Gwen Hill St. The property is owned by the School Board of Highlands County and leased to the city of Avon Park.
The Boy's & Girl's club agreement with the city is expiring, he said.
Randall asked the school board to consider entering into an agreement directly with the Boy's & Girl's Club of Highlands County concerning the property the club is currently using in Avon Park.
"This would allow us to have a long-term agreement for the property itself and give us the opportunity to provide a more permanent and stable environment for the children we serve," Randall said.
Randall said he had spoken to Avon Park Administrative Services Director Maria Sutherland who was open to the idea and suggested to bring the proposal to the city council after the school board provided its consent to proceed.
"With an agreement with the school board it would allow us to seek funding and start a capital campaign to build permanent structures," Randall said. "We have been there for seven years now and we have found that is the epicenter of the kids we need to serve. That is the ideal location.
It would also allow the club to access more grants, Randall added.
Superintendent Wally Cox said the school board had given the entire property to the city of Avon Park for recreational purposes.
This proposal would only affect the property to the north of the track and the remainder of the property would stay with the city, he said.
Cox noted that the school board has many agreements with Boys & Girls Club and most of the students it serves attend district schools.
Randall said the Avon Park club serves children from Sun 'N Lake, Memorial, Avon and Park elementary schools.
School Board Attorney John McClure said the property is currently owned by the city of Avon Park under an agreement with a reversion clause. The concept is to transfer that portion of the property back to the school board, which would provide a long-term lease to the Boys & Girls Club.
The school board offered its consent to move forward on the proposal.
The Boys and Girls Club's after-school programs and services include: character development and leadership development, education and career development, health and life skills, the arts, sports, fitness and recreation.