Some opportunities are too important to pass up.
That would seem to be the case with the proposed project to enlarge the Boys & Girls Club facility in downtown Killeen.
The opportunity, in this case, is the possibility of a $750,000 grant by Bell County to help fund the project.
The challenge is that this is a matching grant, which would require the city of Killeen to allocate an identical amount.
However, the return in this instance could literally change the lives of hundreds of youth — and adults — in the downtown area, and beyond.
According to Daniel Hall, vice president of Resource Development for the Boys & Girls Club of Central Texas, the proposed project would create a 14,000-square-foot facility that would feature a gymnasium, as well as a college and career center for teens.
But most importantly, the project would establish a community counseling center, operated by Texas A&M University-Central Texas and staffed by university psychology students. The center would feature six private counseling rooms and available to everyone in the community.
Not only would the project be a huge benefit to the youth of Killeen, but it would provide much-needed mental health services for residents who might not otherwise have the economic means or transportation to receive the help they need.
Granted, in any other year, a request for $750,000 would be difficult to reconcile — especially given the myriad other programs and services the city must fund.
However, this year, Killeen is the beneficiary of more than $29 million in American Relief Plan Act money, offered by the federal government to mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Last month, City Manager Kent Cagle and city staff identified 36 projects that could be funded with the ARPA money, and the Boys & Girls Club expansion project, with its $750,000 request to the city, was among them.
However, due to a cost adjustment for a new emergency operations center and higher-than-expected payroll expenses, there is no longer enough funding for everything. In fact, there is a potential
$7 million shortfall.
At Tuesday’s City Council workshop, most council members were generally supportive of the Boys & Girls Club, but some were concerned about whether the city could absorb the funding request.
Ultimately, council members gave the project a tentative “no” by a 4-3 vote.
As stewards of the city’s money, a cautious approach is both understandable and laudable — but only to a point.
First, the $750,000 grant request for the Boys & Girls Club is the only ARPA spending item that has the potential to be matched dollar for dollar — potentially doubling the city’s impact on the $2 million project. Another $500,000 would come from local pledges.
Also, the county’s matching grant has a short shelf life. With county commissioners presenting the proposed budget Monday, a final decision by the council is needed quickly.
Finally, hesitant council members would be well served to step back and reconsider the allocation process as a whole. Giving $750,000 to the Boys & Girls Club project would not necessarily come at the expense of funding for another project.
With more than 30 projects on the list, it would be theoretically possible to trim just $25,000 from each of them to offset the $750,000 needed for the Boys & Girls Club project. And most importantly, the ARPA funding can be spent over two years, so all the cutbacks don’t need to be made at once.
For those who would argue that the Boys & Girls Club is a national organization and doesn’t rely on local funding, the numbers tell a different story. Hall said that only 4% of the local club’s funding comes from the national organization, with the rest generated through local pledges and donations.
The Boys & Girls Club took a major step in 2019 when it purchased the former First Texas Bank building on North Eighth Street in downtown Killeen.
The facility was renovated to provide a 10,000-square-foot clubhouse for youth ages 6-12, with the second floor remodeled to serve as corporate headquarters for the six-county Boys and Girls Clubs of Central Texas and administrative offices for clubhouse staff.
That facility opened in July 2020, serving about 30 children a day at the height of COVID.
Today, however, Hall said the downtown club serves about 120 youth daily — and the club is hoping to serve even more youth with the proposed expansion.
According to an informational handout from the BGCTX, 1,503 club-aged youth (ages 6-18) live in the area bounded by Fort Hood Street, W.S. Young Drive, Veterans Memorial Boulevard and the Fort Hood Army post. In that area, 87% are designated by the Killeen school district as “low socio-economic status” and 30% are teens.
By expanding its downtown facility, the Boys & Girls Club would be able to offer more opportunities for recreation, career guidance and mental health counseling to a segment of our city’s population that is too often overlooked.
When Hall first approached county commissioners about helping to fund the facility with ARPA money back in April, he was advised to submit a letter of request for outside agency funding.
Commissioners responded positively to the request for $1.25 million but told Hall that his budget was too small. They also told Hall they would like to see the city of Killeen get involved as a stakeholder.
As far as Cagle’s initial ARPA project funding list is concerned, the city has done just that.
But now it’s the city council’s turn to step out in faith.
On Tuesday, the council will again discuss the spending of ARPA funds, in a workshop that will follow the council’s regular 5 p.m. meeting.
Once again, consideration of the Boys & Girls Club grant match will be on the table.
Though final approval of funding for the expansion project isn’t possible in a workshop setting, a green-light consensus vote would let county commissioners know that the city is ready to match the county’s generous offer.
With that knowledge in hand, the county may be able to tentatively earmark the funds ahead of the county budget’s planned Aug. 16 adoption.
For years, council members have loudly spoken out about the need to invest in the city’s downtown area. They’ve also been strong proponents of supporting our community’s youth and for giving them greater opportunities.
Our elected officials have campaigned on these priorities, as well as on putting resources into the city’s aging north side.
The Boys & Girls Club initative would help the city make great strides in all these areas, yet last week four of Killeen’s elected officials were willing to pass up the chance.
Our council members have another chance this week, and they can take the first step with a single “yes” vote.
It’s an opportunity we simply can’t afford to miss.