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Boys and Girls Club Coming to University Heights

March 24, 2007

\By KATHRYN MOLINARO

It’s been a long road, but Bronx leaders hope by next summer the 45,000 kids and teenagers in University Heights will have a safe place to learn and play.

After years of planning and set-backs, these project leaders plan to close on the property this month. They will then begin to transform the former Hebrew Institute Yeshiva building at 1835 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd into a Kips Bay Boys & Girls Club for six- to 18-year-olds.

Daniel Quintero, executive director of Kips Bay, said building plans and fundraising have been the biggest hurdles to beginning renovations.

“We’re on the cusp of it,” Quintero said.

Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion first came up with the idea for a club when he was the district manager of Community Board 5 almost 15 years ago.

Xavier Rodriguez, the current district manager of Community Board 5, said because his district has the least amount of parks and recreational space in the Bronx, a Boys & Girls Club has been a top priority for years.

“Kids, teenagers, need some place to keep them off the street,” Rodriguez said, adding that parents call his office looking for places nearby to send their children for recreation. “We just wish we could have gotten this thing going earlier.”

Carrion brought Kips Bay on board around 1999 when he was a member of the City Council. A celebratory groundbreaking followed in 2003, but since then problems have plagued the project.

During the clean-up of the 30,000 square-foot building, which included removing cars from inside the building, the mezzanine level collapsed, causing a six-month delay until the crew was allowed back inside. The building has been empty for over 30 years.

The most recent delay was a redesign, which added several months to the project. It was needed because one of the emergency egresses, or exits, led onto another property.

“The group that owned that part of the property felt it diminished property value and was an insurance issue,” Rodriguez said. “We’re hoping this will be the final hurdle.”

Money issues have also delayed progress. The high gas prices over the summer caused the cost of building materials to rise, and the estimated cost for the project is $12 million.

“Raising $12 million is not easy,” Quintero said.

The money for the club has come from a variety of sources, including Councilwoman Maria Baez and Carrion. According to Mike Murphy, Carrion’s spokesperson, Carrion has donated $1,750,000, which includes $1,250,000 he donated as Councilman.

“The borough president has been very generous,” Rodriguez said.

The facility, which Quintero estimates will serve 350 – 450 people a day, will have a gymnasium, game room with pool tables and ping-pong, and tutoring and college preparation resources. Kips Bay, whose other club is in the southeast Bronx, to offer classes and information on healthy living and preventing health problems.

Even with all the delays, Quintero, a Kips Bay Boys & Girls Club alum himself, thinks all the work is worth it.

“We just felt that it was an underserved part of the community,” Quintero said. “We all have our talent within and what I think the Boys & Girls Club does is that we tap into it and nourish it and bring it out.”