Just for Girls Club plans new charter school in Bradenton

BRADENTON -- It's all about girl power.

But how to get young girls to realize how successful they can be is the most important part of empowering them. Just For Girls, a chapter of the Manatee County Girls Club Inc., may have a plan to achieve that goal.

A proposed $4.4 million Just For Girls Academy charter school at 3809 59th St. W. is the nonprofit agency's latest effort, if approved by the city of Bradenton.

The plan calls for a significant improvement by demolishing the existing 7,560-square-foot building and constructing a new 26,390-square-foot facility. The plan received an initial development review by city staff and was approved with 12 minor stipulations Feb. 25. Staff recommendations include improving entrance security and parking lot lighting.

"It's time," said Patricia Petruff, Just For Girls board president and an attorney with

Dye, Deitrich, Petruff and St. Paul in Bradenton. "We've done all the other campuses and the time has come for this building to be demolished. It's an old building."

The Bradenton Kiwanis Club deeded the 59th Street property to the Manatee County Girls Club in 1979 when the existing building was constructed.

While the 59th Street property is the last facility to be updated, Petruff said plans are for the facility to become the star of Just For Girls. However, that star won't be rising any time soon.

The planning commission will review the proposed site plan at 2 p.m. Wednesday at city hall, 101 Old Main St.

"The planning commission meeting with the city is an act of moving forward with an abundance of caution," said Petruff. "The special permit for the existing facility was issued a long time ago. We were advised to make sure that it is up to date before even thinking about breaking ground."

Becky Canesse, executive director of Just For Girls, hopes to see construction begin by early 2015.

"There are a lot of bits and parts to this project and it all requires careful timing," said Canesse. "The cost is significant and we do not have the funds in place to begin the project yet, but we are excited to look ahead in offering innovative services to these girls that have already showed great promise in our programs."

Canesse said the plan is to move the agency's charter school from its smaller location in East Bradenton to the 59th Street facility upon completion.

"We started about a year-and-a-half ago with K through 3rd grade and added a fourth grade this year," she said. "At the rate our program is growing, the plan is to add a grade a year and we are looking to get approved for a K through eighth-grade school."

Canesse said funding is being pursued through grants, including up to half of the $4.4 million cost through the city's community redevelopment block grant program. The primary fund-raiser for the organization is its Smart Growth Campaign.

"It's a $5 million campaign mostly for this new leadership and learning facility," said Canesse.

In addition to expanding learning opportunities for girls who have not typically performed well in a traditional school environment, Canesse said the proposed building will act as an emergency staging area for first responders during an emergency such as a hurricane, and also act as a shelter for displaced families after an emergency.

Part of the planning includes expanding parking beyond the site plan requirements to help accommodate overflow parking to the YMCA just to the north. A driveway access between the two facilities is being planned.

In exchange, the YMCA is offering students access to the pool during non-peak hours.

"We view this not just as a single project, but a neighborhood center," said Canesse. "When we share these community resources, the money we save by using their pool and the money they save by using our parking goes right into doing more for the community."

The planning commission will review the project Wednesday and make a recommendation to the city council at a future meeting.

"This is just the planning and design phase," Canesse said. "Then it has to have an engineering study and then an environmental phase that could take six months."

To learn more about the Just For Girls program, contribute or volunteer, visit or call 941-747-5757.

Mark Young, urban affairs reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041.