No home for Boys & Girls

GRANITE FALLS – It should be simple. Find a building for the Boys &Girls Club, a place for kids to play before and after school.

It’s worked in 11 communities around Snohomish County, 4,000 around the country.

It’s not working anymore in Granite Falls.

For the first time in eight years, the school year has started without a Boys &Girls Club in this city of about 3,000 people.

Things started to go downhill during a dispute between City Hall and the club over the use of the city-run community center. A fire damaged the building in June. By then, hopes that both sides would find a solution had already faded.

Now, some children are being shuttled 8 miles to the Lake Stevens Boy &Girls Club to shoot hoops, play pool, do homework and paint pictures.

A few left behind are spending afternoons alone.

“Without the Boys &Girls Club, kids … have no place to go,” parent Ron Coleman said.

The problem in Granite Falls started three years ago when the club sought a long-term $1-a-year-lease in the city-run community center.

But that building was the only place for Alcoholics Anonymous, the Boy Scouts and other groups to meet.

City officials worried that the club, which has before and after-school activities, might displace those other groups.

Small-town politics escalated those fears. Rumors started to swirl, and battle lines were drawn.

Some accused Mayor Lyle Romack of not caring about the city’s children. Other said the club was mismanaged.

People outside of Granite Falls who are following the issue closely say they are perplexed.

“I don’t know anybody that’s opposed to the Boys &Girls Club,” County Councilman John Koster said. “Some of this needs time for the dust to settle to figure out what the long-term solution will be.”

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Jevn Norberg, 9, used to have trouble getting out of bed. It would take 20 minutes to wake him up and get ready for day care.

“Every morning he’d tell me, ‘I don’t want to go to day care, I don’t want to go to day care,’” Tamara Norberg, Jevn’s mom, said.

The boy had too much energy for the sit-down activities day care offered, she said. Then she got him into the Boys &Girls Club, where he would play with kids his own age and have a chance to run around. Jevn changed.

“He wasn’t shy anymore,” his dad, Loren, said. “He was excited to play there everyday.”

Jevn started waking up ready to roll.

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In many cities, the community and the Boys &Girls Club have worked together to raise money to fix up club buildings. It’s a model that works nationwide, said Glen Permuy, a spokesman for the national Boys &Girls Club organization.

“The partnering entity understands the value of the relationship, because (the club is) going to renovate the building and provide a service to the young people in the community,” he said.

Disputes with cities, such as the one in Granite Falls, are rare, he said. Nationwide, the club reaches about 4.6 million children. In Snohomish County, 15,000 kids participate, about 350 in Granite Falls.

The situation wasn’t always so bad in Granite Falls.

The club opened in 1998 on school district property behind the middle school. In 2001 the club moved into the city’s century-old community center when the school district needed its space back.

At the time, the club entered into a two-year lease, Snohomish County Boys &Girls Club Executive Director Bill Tsoukalas said.

The club cobbled together $400,000 in grants, pledges and fundraisers and had preliminary renovation plans drawn, he said.

Before spending the money, however, they wanted a long-term lease on the building. In 2003, the club prepared to start lease talks.

“And that’s about the time the wheels fell off,” Tsoukalas said.

He said the newly elected Romack was reluctant to enter a long-term agreement.

“I was concerned about the community being able to use the building,” Romack said.

Councilman Tom FitzGerald said he has gone out of his way to support the club. He recalled club officials pitching plans that were difficult for him to support.

“Their interest was to take over the entire community center,” he said. “That didn’t benefit the best use of the community.”

Other city leaders, including Councilwoman Kathy Ganung, believed $400,000 wasn’t enough for all the renovations the building needed.

Ultimately the City Council would vote several times to end the club’s lease, only to be met with strong resistance from parents. Twice, the council capitulated and extended the club’s lease.

This year the lease was terminated altogether and the club was given until October to pack up and move out.

On June 20, an accidental fire caused extensive damage to the building forcing everyone to move out and find another home.

The building’s future is now in insurance company limbo. Even so, the door is closed for the Boys &Girls Club.

“There’s nothing there that we can do,” Mayor Romack said. “I wish I had a solution. I just don’t.”

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Some community leaders still are trying to find a home for the club.

“I’m trying to get them looking forward and be solution oriented,” Snohomish County Council member John Koster said.

Koster is among a group of people called in to help broker an agreement – anything to give the kids a place to play.

Over the summer, Granite Falls school district officials agreed to allow the club to put up a temporary building in the middle school parking lot. The length of the agreement and other terms are being worked out.

In the meantime, some children will use the Lake Stevens club. A van will ferry kids from Granite Falls back and forth.

And the Pilchuck Valley Chapel, about halfway between Granite Falls and Lake Stevens, has offered the club use of a portable building until February.

Like the Lake Stevens clubhouse, the chapel isn’t a great solution because it’s not easy for kids to get to, said Paul Seely, the club’s community relations director.

Still, the temporary fix may be enough to bide time until a permanent solution can be found, he said. So far, nothing serious has emerged.

“We’re willing to be a player to help solve the problem,” Tsoukalas said. “We’re not going to be the problem solver.”

Now, parents spend weekends hosting bake sales and raffles to raise money for the club.

Earlier this month, the City Council voted unanimously to declare last week Granite Falls Boys &Girls Club week. The proclamation, drafted by club members, had no binding impact.

“It was pretty perfunctory,” Seely said. “They really want this to go away.”

Meanwhile, parents are finding other solutions.

Instead of studying Spanish or doing crafts with her friends, Micaela Bogart, 10, is now likely to join her mom in the afternoons, cleaning houses.

“It makes me sad,” said Julie Bogart, Micaela’s mom.

Ron Coleman said he’s trying to send his daughter Danielle to the Lake Stevens club.

“With our income we don’t have much choice,” he said. “It’s a scramble … it’s a day-by-day thing.”

A timeline history of the Boys &Girls Club:

1860: The Boys &Girls Clubs of America starts in Hartford, Conn., as a positive alternative for boys who roamed the streets.

1906: Several Boys Clubs decide to affiliate and form the Federated Boys Clubs in Boston.

1931: The Boys Club Federation of America becomes Boys Clubs of America.

1946: Snohomish Countys first club opens in Everett in what is today the Everett Community College athletic facility.

1956: Boys Clubs of America celebrates its 50th anniversary and receives a U.S. Congressional Charter.

1964: Local business help raise about $125,000 to build the Everett clubhouse on 12th Street.

1965: Mukilteo, Arlington and Edmonds open clubs.

Mid-1980s: Industry growth fuels a population boom in the county. Several clubs open around the county to serve the burgeoning community.

1990: The national organization changes its name to Boys &Girls Clubs of America to recognize the fact that girls were part of the cause.

1998: Granite Falls club opens in the middle school annex.

2001: Granite Falls club moves to city-run community center.

2006: Granite Falls club looses its lease. The Snohomish County Boys &Girls Club operates 12 clubs and another 18 extension sites serving 15,000 local youth.

Nationally, the club operates about 4,000 centers and reaches about 4.6 million children.

Source: The Snohomish County Boys &Girls Club and the Boys &Girls Clubs of America Web site,

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