A plan to build a bigger Boys & Girls Club building at a city-owned, west-side park won a warm reception from Bloomington aldermen Monday night.
While not taking a formal vote, the Bloomington City Council signaled it’s ready to support leasing 3 acres of Sunnyside Park to Boys & Girls Club of Bloomington-Normal. The Boys & Girls Club would raise money privately to construct a new building at the site, just down the street from its current home on Illinois Street.
“For a long time, I’ve been dreaming of having a new building for us to go to. The club is like a second home to me,” said Desi Adams, 17, who’s been a member of the Boys & Girls Club for 10 years. She addressed aldermen Monday night.
She said the nonprofit organization plays a vital role in the lives of young people, from helping kids with homework to assisting teens like her land a job.
“With a new building we can definitely open up doors to even more people,” she said.
Boys & Girls Club leaders say they’ve outgrown their leased space at 1615 W. Illinois St., with the total number of kids served annually nearly doubling in the past five years, to around 1,000. Boys & Girls Club CEO Tony Morstatter said the expansion and other moves could allow the group to serve another 1,000 kids in 10 years.
There is an “epidemic of children at risk in our hometown,” said Holly Houska, who serves on the Boys & Girls Club board of directors. Around 80 percent of the parents of Boys & Girls Club kids are in the workforce, trying to make ends meet, she said.
“We need to face that truth,” she said.
Morstatter stressed the importance of staying on the west side. He said 94 percent of the children they serve come from families that are economically disadvantaged.
“That’s our dream, to be on the corner of Illinois and Erickson. It’s in our neighborhood. It’s in the community that we belong in,” said Morstatter.
Aldermen on Monday seemed to favor a long-term lease of Sunnyside Park to the Boys & Girls Club. One option was for 99 years for $1 each year. The organization will also replace a baseball/softball field that will be lost in the construction. It will be moved to a newly reworked area west of the park.
A lease agreement will come before aldermen for final approval at a future meeting.
— WGLT (@WGLTNews) May 15, 2018
In other business, new Bloomington Police Chief Clay Wheeler was sworn in Monday.
Wheeler was joined by his family and several rank-and-file officers in the council chambers. Wheeler has been with BPD since 1991, starting as a third-shift patrolman and moving to field-training officer and hostage negotiator, detective in the criminal investigation division for 13 years, sergeant, lieutenant, and assistant chief in 2011.
Wheeler will succeed former Chief Brendan Heffner, who retired and left to become U.S. Marshal for the Central District of Illinois.
Wheeler’s annual salary will be $155,940. Heffner’s ending salary was $147,455.
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