MANATEE -- The Boys & Girls Clubs of Manatee County received a $1.2 million donation Thursday from the Pittsburgh Pirates on the same day they began demolishing their oldest club location in the county.
The club on Ninth Street West next to McKechnie Field was built in 1946.
Boys & Girls Clubs board members had a sense of humor as they watched the demolition of the former gym, which was added to the club building in 1951.
"We finally have better air conditioning in the gym," they said as the walls came down.
But the moment was bittersweet.
"For a lot of people, this is a melancholy moment because this place meant so much to them as kids," said Drue Duerschmidt, spokesman for the Boys & Girls Clubs. "But it is just brick and mortar. The building may be coming down, but our partnership is strengthening."
The decision to tear down the Bradenton location was made after school-based sites gained triple the membership of the Ninth Street location, which closed in September.
"The community has changed, and so have the
trends of serving children," said Tim Knowles, Boys & Girls Clubs board member. "We were serving more kids in the school-based programs than through this physical location, and this will allow us to be closer to the kids and have the best impact."
Trevor Gooby, director of Florida operations for the Pirates, said the donation will be paid over 12 years and is not designated for a specific project. The Boys & Girls Clubs of Manatee County have been partners with the Pirates since 1969.
Mike Moschella, chairman for the Manatee County Boys & Girls Clubs, said the ultimate goal is to expand club programs in schools.
"This is a huge opportunity to expand and structure our programs," Moschella said.
School-based locations are at Daughtrey Elementary, Orange Ridge-Bullock Elementary, Harllee Middle, Lincoln Middle and Southeast High School.
The Boys & Girls Clubs still have locations in Palmetto and on the corner of 53rd Avenue East and 34th Street in Bradenton.
Knowles said the Boys & Girls Clubs have an arrangement with Bradenton in case they need another physical location again on property behind the former location.
"If that time occurs when we are still serving kids in the neighborhood but need another facility, that door will be open to us," Knowles said.
Moschella said that will remain an option for the future.
"We would want to make sure we can still serve kids just in case," Moschella said. "We are excited to continue our partnership and take this to a new phase."
The demolition of the former Girls & Boys Club building will lead to the expansion of McKechnie Field. A parking area that was removed to expand the practice field will be replaced at the former club site.
"It will make things for fans and tourists that much better,' Moschella said. "It's a win-win."
Gooby said the Pirates plan to maintain their partnership with the Boys & Girls Clubs.
"The Pittsburgh Pirates and Bradenton Marauders are proud of our long-standing relationship with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Manatee County, an organization that shares our commitment to the young people in our communities," said Bob Nutting, Pirates' chairman, in a press release. "We are excited to extend our partnership by making this multi-year pledge to support the Boys & Girls Clubs' ability to enhance its services and continue to provide a safe and positive environment for youths and families throughout Manatee County."
Erica Earl, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081.