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RONAN — Right now, it takes some imagination to see what the future holds for the Boys and Girls Club here.

Blue lines mark the location of the new walls that will start taking shape next month inside the 19,000-square-foot building that housed the Total Home Furniture store for a quarter-century on the edge of Ronan.

When the remodel is completed, ideally sometime next year, the new clubhouse will be more than five times the size of the club’s current facility.

Before that happens, the Boys and Girls Club of the Flathead Reservation and Lake County will need to raise another $1 million in a combination of money and in-kind services to complete the remodel of its Ronan branch.

The club has already raised $1.4 million to buy the building and the 2.4 acres that surround it.

“The club worked for a number of years to find a new location,” Aric Cooksley, the executive director of the Boys and Girls Club of the Flathead Reservation and Lake County. “This one couldn’t have been more perfect.”

The surrounding community rallied around the idea of creating a place where children could thrive.

“Any time you have an entity that is benefiting kids the way we are benefiting kids, there some pretty strong and compelling reasons to support it,” Cooksley said. “Over the years, we’ve developed strong relationships with people in the community. As a result of that, there is an understanding for the need for an expansion of our facilities.

“Our board and capital campaign committee’s vision is that we’re doing this for the kids of our community,” he said. “We can meet their needs and give them opportunities to thrive.”

Over the past few years, the folks who cared deeply about the future of the Ronan Boys and Girls Club have known they were living on borrowed time in a building that was bursting at the seams with kids.

In 2019, a planned expansion of U.S. Highway 93 will require the building that currently houses the clubhouse to be torn down.

“They say it’s not good to have kids playing on the highway,” Cooksley said.

The Ronan Boys and Girls Club has seen its popularity soar, especially with middle and high school students.

“We are operating well beyond our capacity,” Cooksley said.

On school days, somewhere between 60 and 80 kids over 6 years old funnel into the 3,700-square-foot clubhouse right next to Highway 93. In the summer months, that number jumps to upwards of 120 a day.

Once the new clubhouse opens, there will be room for 200 or more.

“When that happens, we’ll begin to change the conversation of what’s possible,” he said.

A year ago, there were very few middle and high school students taking advantage of the Ronan Boys and Girls Club.

“On an average month, we might serve 15,” Cooksley said. “This last month, there were 30 Ronan middle-schoolers on the honor roll who attend the club regularly. Last year, we didn’t have 30 middle-schoolers.”

Currently, there isn’t any space at the clubhouse dedicated to that older age group.

That will change at the new facility, where areas will be set aside for both teenagers and elementary school students. In addition, the facility will feature a commercial kitchen that will prepare breakfast, lunches and dinners for kids and offer cooking classes to families.

Currently, the club serves between 20,000 to 25,000 meals and snacks a year. Cooksley said a conservative estimate suggests meals will jump to somewhere between 50,000 and 60,000 in the new facility.

“So we’re not just making a impact on food security and keeping hungry tummies full, but we’ll also be able to work with families,” Cooksley said. “It won’t just impact this generation of kids. It will impact the support network of the generation of kids. … Once we get into this building, we will be able to impact a generation of kids in a very positive way."

The impacts don’t stop there.

The new facility will require an increase in staffing, which will mean more jobs.

Once the building is open, there will be a total of 25 to 27 people working there. About four or five of those jobs will be full time. Currently, there are 13 employees and three are full time.

The current operating annual budget is now $440,000. Operating the new facility will cost an estimated $625,000.

The Boys and Girls Club is an economic driver for the local community. Cooksley said the club does its own fundraising.

“Currently, we put about $275,000 a year back into the community through wages and payments for other local services,” Cooksley said. “That will jump to about $400,000 a year when the new building is opened.”

That doesn’t even count what it means for local families who now have an affordable and safe place for their children to go while they work. Parents pay $5 a month during the school year and $25 a month during the summer.

“I have heard from a lot of people who say they couldn’t afford to keep working if they had to pay for child care too,” Cooksley said. “That’s an economic driver that doesn’t show up on any budget line. It’s certainly important to many in the community.”

The Boys and Girls Club of the Flathead Reservation and Lake County has a second location in Polson that’s housed in the St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church basement.

“We have 40 kids using that facility and there’s a waiting list,” he said.

The Providence St. Joseph Medical Center has donated 1.8 acres across from the Polson Middle School for a future home for a new Boys and Girls Club facility for that community.

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Northwest Montana Reporter

Northwest Montana reporter at the Missoulian