Boys & Girls Club gets OK to use part of Simon Lake building for a year

“We got it!” said Boys & Girls Club Executive Director Megan Altomare after learning last week that the club has permission to use part of Simon Lake School for its growing program.

The after-school organization, which has been in Milford five years, has grown from about 60 children to 300 in the short time it’s been here. The current location at the West Shore Recreation building on Benham Avenue is no longer big enough.

The Board of Education has given preliminary approval for the club to use an area at the former Simon Lake Elementary School called “the pod,” which is currently housing school resource material, for a year. James Richetelli Jr., CEO of school operations, said there are still some forms to fill out and some details to address, but it’s pretty much a done deal.

The club will not have to pay to use the space.

“Similar to programs like the YMCA before- and after-school program, we recognize the tremendous service that they provide to our children and families, so we partner with them and waive the fees,” Richetelli said. “They do have to provide us with insurance and they have to pay for their own maintenance and upkeep of the space.”

Richetelli said there will only be a one-year agreement for now because the Board of Education is in the process of completing a long range plan.

“That may impact what the space is used for in the future,” Richetelli said.

So, the board will have to revisit the Boys & Girls Club issue next year and decide if it can use the space on a long-term basis.

Altomare is happy nonetheless.

“We’re excited for the opportunity and grateful to the city and Board of Education and look forward to finalizing the paperwork and details to make this a reality,” Altomare said.

The club will continue to use the West Shore Recreation building, which is adjacent to the former Simon Lake Elementary School, in addition to the Simon Lake space. The recreation building will house a separate teen program.

Simon Lake Elementary School closed three years ago. The school board owns 25% of the building, and the rest reverted back to the city, said Mayor Ben Blake. One hallway and the gym are being used for police training; and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is occupying another hallway as it continues to help residents navigate federal funding and loans for storm repairs.

The Boys & Girls club hopes to move into Simon Lake by October, Altomare said. The after-school program for younger children will be housed there, with its after-school homework club, computers and other amenities. The West Shore Recreation Building will house a separate teen program.

“I’m really excited,” Altomare said. “I can’t wait to get over there.”

Last year the club had to cap membership at about 300 youngsters, and there were nearly 30 youngsters on the waiting list, because of constraints due to the size of the building. Now the cap can be lifted, Altomore said.

The club is popular not only for its offerings, but also for its cost. Membership is $50 a year, and scholarships are provided for families that qualify.

Mayor Blake said city officials have been supportive of the club because it fills a need here. He said he is pleased about the Simon Lake arrangement, and happy the club is sort of expanding because it will have a separate teen club in the recreation building.

Boys & Girls Club Board Chairman Jorge Santiago said that while the club has only been in Milford five years, the quick growth indicates there was always a need for it. The club gives children a place to hang out after school, so they aren’t finding inappropriate places to congregate and get in trouble.

Plus, he said, the club offers many helpful and character-building programs, like an after-school homework club, money education programs and more.

“It fills a gap,” Santiago said.

Santiago isn’t just the chairman of the board. He’s also a former Boys & Girls Club kid, having attended the Bridgeport program when he was growing up.

“There’s adult supervision, but you still get to be a kid,” he said.