In a move that should not come as a surprise to anyone who’s followed the Carver Gym controversy since May, the Boys & Girls Club will be leaving the gym by Oct. 1 after 11 years in the South Bunnell facility—and 11 years of feeling “unwelcome” there, the Boys & Girls Club’s Joe Sullivan said today.
The board of directors of the Volusia-Flagler Boys & Girls Club met on July 21 and voted unanimously to pull out of Carver. The previous day, the Flagler County Board of Education approved an agreement to lease the club, for $1 a year, an art room, a music room and a small gym at Rymfire Elementary, where the club will run its program for 48 weeks a year from 2 to 7 p.m. on school days and from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays when school is not in session.
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School Superintendent Janet Valentine said the lease was agreed to separately from the club’s issues at Carver Gym. “It wasn’t in lieu of that, as far as I knew,” Valentine said. But the club has already sent in its 60-day notice of vacating Carver. The notice went to the Flagler County Commission and the Bunnell city government.
Sullivan, the club’s chief professional officer, cited many issues that left the club with little reason to stay at Carver. The club has a program at Bunnell Elementary, less than a mile from Carver Gym. And the facility at Rymfire will be serving a school population of around 1,500 where the majority is on free or reduced meal assistance, meaning there’s a great need there for free and extra social activities for children.
Just as clearly, the club is leaving because the community around Carver Gym either does not want the club there or doesn’t support the structured ways the club runs its program.
“For the entire time we have been in operation at Carver,” Sullivan wrote in a memo to Bunnell and county government officials, “ we have been unable to have the same impact on youth that we have at our other eight clubs,” seven of which are in Volusia County. “Sharing space with another program that does not share our goals and expectations was difficult because they allow the youth to come and go as they please without and do what they want. (Sic.) Having a safe place is important but it is our mission to make sure that our members are getting the help they need with academics and character development that will help them to graduate high school and give them the qualities necessary to become caring and responsible citizens, leaders and taxpayers. The open door that allowed youth to come and go, do what they want with little to no structured activities did not allow us to provide them what they needed as long as they could always go downstairs to the gym, shoot hoops and do what they wanted.”
“Miss them?” Rev. Frank Giddens, who’s led the opposition to the gym closing–or being turned over to the Boys & Girls Club, said after hearing of the club leaving, Wednesday afternoon. “You want to know the truth of that? My answer is no, because ever since they’ve been here they’ve been trying to take over the gym. So every year or every two years, they’d try to take the gym away, and we don’t need the harassing on their part like that. If they stayed here they’re going to try again.”
The Boys & Girls Club’s presence at Carver Gym became a flash point after county commissioners in June said it wanted to close the gym for good, to save the $117,000 a year it pays to keep the gym open. About half the money goes to two salaried positions for county employees who run what’s essentially South Bunnell’s community center. Community members protested. The county backed down somewhat, especially after the letter it circulated to the school board and the Bunnell City Commission, seeking alternatives, showed both governments eager to keep the gym open.
When Bunnell’s vice mayor, Jenny Crain-Brady, called an invitation-only meeting to discuss possibilities on July 8, the only non-government agency she invited was the Boys & Girls Club. Crain-Brady’s notion was to have Bunnell buy back the gym from the county over four years and install the Boys & Girls Club as the agency in charge (along with the Bunnell Police Department occupying other parts of the gym). The South Bunnell community reacted angrily—to being excluded from the discussion as well as to the suggestion that the Boys & Girls Club might take over. The community started small protests at government meetings to speak its displeasure.
That was enough for the Boys & Girls Club. “The Boys & Girls Club saw the Carver Community as a place that we needed to be,” Sullivan wrote in his memo. “At the same time we understand the emotional attachment of the neighborhood to the Carver Community Center and not wanting to have it given up to an outside entity. We tried our best to provide the kids what they need but under the current circumstances we have been unable to make a difference and establish a strong Club.”
Sullivan visited Carver Gym with WNZF’s Terry Turner and a new Boys & Girls Club board member Wednesday afternoon–at the same time that Giddens was there, in another part of the gym, along with Chris Borgmann, who’s also helped lead the opposition. The two sides didn’t cross paths.
“My next move,” Giddens said, “is make sure the gym stays open, on the county. Like I said at the beginning, we want it to remain as is, on the Board of County Commission. Operate it like it’s been operating. The Board of County Commission has the money. If they don’t have it, they know how to get the money.”