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Council to explore park bond gift to Boys and Girls Club

Submitted by on 1, September 2, 2009 – 6:00 amNo Comment

buildingAfter a lengthy debate that pitted park and open space advocates against club boosters, the City Council decided Tuesday night to explore the possibility of giving the Boys and Girls Club of Alameda $2 million in park bond money to help the club build its new facility.

The club had hoped to have the council’s commitment for the funds on Tuesday night. But some council members said they wanted more assurances that the Measure WW park bond funds can be used for the project. And they wanted more information about what they would get for the money.

“I don’t feel comfortable with allocating $2 million tonight without our staff looking very carefully at the questions that have been raised about this project,” Councilman Frank Matarrese said. He wanted a firmer commitment from the East Bay Regional Park District that the project qualifies for the money, and also whether the club would be able to complete the project with the money and what the city would get in return for it.

Interim City Manager Ann Marie Gallant said city staff could provide answers about the eligibility of the project for WW funding at the council’s September 15 meeting, but that she’d need 30 days to answer the council’s other questions.

The club’s leadership and its boosters – who included two members of the district attorney’s office, a local clergyman and the mother of Detroit Tigers pitcher Dontrelle Willis, who donated money for the project – said the club will offer positive direction for kids whose needs are being increasingly ignored. And they said the club’s presence will help deter after-school crime.

“There’s no other structure in town that will be as important as this when it’s completed. It will be a centerpiece in the West End to complement the new library and theater,” said Sally Rudloff, president of the club’s board of directors. “Together, we can show the youth of Alameda that people in town care for them.”

But park and open space advocates said they think voters want the money to go to parks and open space, and not a private organization like the Boys and Girls Club. And they said that while they think the club’s project is a worthy one, they think the city’s bond money should be used to make desperately needed improvements in its parks.

Many said they’d like to see the money used for a park on the Belt Line property, which the city just won the legal right to buy (they’ve got money to purchase the land but not to build anything on it or maintain it).

“(Measure) WW money should be used to improve the parks for all the residents of this city,” Dorothy Freeman said.

The city is slated to get $3.4 million in money from Measure WW, the regional park bond voters approved in 2008. City leaders’ top priorities for use of the money included renovation of recreation buildings at Littlejohn, Woodstock and Krusi parks and resurfacing of tennis and basketball courts at Washington Park.

Councilwoman Lena Tam, who put the item on the council’s agenda, said she thinks that construction costs lowered by the recession could let the city complete its priority projects and give money to the Boys and Girls Club.

“We would have sufficient funds for those priority projects. So it’s not an either-or proposition,” Tam said.

The club has raised about $6 million of the $8.2 million it needs to build its new, 25,000-square-foot facility at the site of the former Woodstock Elementary School.But it has been unable to come up with the rest. Club leaders said they’re afraid that if they don’t move forward on construction soon, they could lose some of the $3 million in grant money they’ve collected.

The school district is leasing the land to the club for $1 a year in exchange for daytime use of the facility. The council, if it decides to give the money to the club, will have to ink a separate deal for its own use of the facility.

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