Benefactors and dignitaries got their first glimpse of the new Palmetto Boys and Girls Club building during a ribbon-cutting ceremony Thursday.
They played ping-pong on pristine tables, peered through windows at gleaming black computers and marveled at a gymnasium that would be the envy of most small high schools.
But their wonder was no match for the scene Monday afternoon, when the children who use the club every day burst through the doors for the first time.
“They were just running around, touching,” said Palmetto Club Director Willie Cooper, hyperventilating to mimic the kids’ reaction. “They were just jumping up and down. ... They were just like, “Whoa, whoa, is this ours?’”
Boys and Girls Clubs of Manatee County Executive Director Carl Weeks showed off the new 26,000-square-foot facility on 10th Street West to about 50 invited guests. The building cost about $3 million, bequeathed to the club from the estate of Alma Myers, and took almost a year to complete under the leadership of Manasota Commercial Construction.
The facility features a 10,000-square-foot gymnasium that seats 380, technology labs that house 30 computers, an art center and a main game room that holds three ice hockey tables, three billiards tables, two ping-pong tables and two foosball tables. There also are separate game and technology areas for teens.
The interior of the building is painted red, white and black — the colors of the Palmetto High Tigers — with hand-painted murals on the walls and colorful sails hanging from the rafters.
Mark Nanney, the 2010 Boys and Girls Clubs Youth of the Year, cut the ribbon to usher in a new era for Palmetto’s kids. The old building, which stands just outside the new building’s front doors, has been the club’s home since 1971. It will be demolished next week to make room for a parking lot.
“The Boys and Girls Club has changed my life,” said Nanney, who has been a member of the Harllee Middle School and Southeast High clubs. “It’s really something that’s going to make a huge difference in the thousands of lives that walk through these doors. It really is a huge accomplishment for the future.”
The club is a home away from home to between 160 and 170 kids between the ages of 6 and 17, Cooper said. The rolls will increase to about 225 during the summer, he said.
A new Palmetto Elementary School being built next door will open in January, and the Boys and Girls Clubs will offer kids a convenient after-school destination.
Weeks said only 40 percent of the club’s 3,000 members have technology at home. He hopes partnerships with the Palmetto schools will encourage even more kids to use the facility.
“If I had my way, I would love to see activity from 5 in the morning till midnight every day. This is a club that is begging to be used,” he said.
Though the club will remain open all summer, the Boys and Girls Clubs are planning a grand opening ceremony Aug. 20 to celebrate the new facility with organization alumni.
Palmetto Mayor Shirley Groover Bryant said she hopes the new building will start a phase of new construction, including new baseball and softball fields and possibly a YMCA branch in Palmetto.
“It’s said that without a vision, the people perish. We won’t be perishing,” said Manatee County School Board member Barbara Harvey. “This is a vision, and we’re just so pleased to see it come together. ... Every child walking through those doors will see that Manatee County, Palmetto, the school board works together to make a difference in their lives.”