As a rule, they don’t make fire halls to host children’s programming.
For almost 20 years, the Burbank Boys and Girls Club has made this arrangement work — a clever re-imagining of a vacant fire hall has provided an educational and social haven for kids ages 6 to 18 outside school hours.
It’s near the corner of San Fernando Boulevard and Buena Vista Street, right off the Golden State (5) Freeway. The location is great for emergency vehicles responding to fires. It’s a terrible location for family programs.
Though Washington Elementary is just 800 feet away, kids are banned from walking the streets to the Boys and Girls Club because they must cross train tracks and a highway underpass. Plus, nearby hotels have reportedly been used as rendezvous points for prostitution.
The old fire station driveway is the club’s only parking area — six tandem spots are reserved for staff, so parents picking up or dropping off their kids have to jockey for position on Buena Vista or swing into the alley behind a gas station.
Two years ago, the city and club officials began talking about a bigger space for the club in a better location. About $3.7 million in redevelopment funding was allocated in 2011, though the project never got far enough along for approvals from the City Council. With the state’s recent dissolution of city redevelopment agencies, those funds are now gone, leaving the club with nowhere else to go for its ever-expanding operations.
“We have completely outgrown it — we’ve known it for a few years,” said Boys and Girls Club director Shanna Warren. “We’re right back to where we started. I have faith (the city) wants to partner with us, but I don’t know where to go from here.”
The idea was to build a new community center at Robert E. Lundigan Park at Thornton Avenue and North Naomi Street. The building would have shared space with the club, which currently rents the fire hall for $1 a year from the city. No longer would staff be doubled- or tripled-up in offices. No longer would kids play on asphalt outside.
At a conservative estimate, the center would have cost $5.8 million, so the redevelopment funds would not have completely covered construction. But they were a start.
“Now that the lion’s share of the funding is not available, it certainly leaves a gap for the future,” said Ruth Davidson-Guerra, Burbank’s assistant community development director.
What is certain: The club will continue serving the greater East Valley area using every means at its disposal. Meals are provided with help from the weekly donation of eight cartloads of food from Pavilions. Chipotle and Starbucks provide snacks; artists from Warner Bros. and Cartoon Network have taken on decorating the place. HP and the Lakers donated computers for a technology lab, and the city offers public parks and pools for free for club events.
Where fire trucks once blared in a high-ceiling garage, foosball tables and other games clatter away. A narrow room off the kitchen is now a small dance studio and rehearsal space. On a recent afternoon, about 50 kids occupied every corner of the club.
Since 1995, the club has grown from serving 75 children at its Buena Vista Street headquarters to serving more than 1,500 kids at 17 sites. It’s still growing — in 2009 after the financial crash, membership doubled as parents took advantage of the club’s low cost and convenient hours. A few nights a week, the club doubles as a teen center, offering a place to hang out until 10 p.m.
Burbank Police Sgt. Darin Ryburn, who serves on the Boys and Girls Club’s board, wants to see the situation change. Police are called to the neighborhood for property crimes and occasional stolen cars, and prostitution-related crimes have been reported at the nearby Ramada Inn and at the Quality Inn across the street from the club.
Beyond safety concerns, Ryburn said the site isn’t big enough to serve all the communities the club represents.
“In these times, I understand it’s tough to find money for a lot of things,” he said. “But in time, I’d like to get that building as a model not only for outreach … It would also be nice as a community for Burbank to say, ‘This is what we did for the youth of our community.’”