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Children delight in newly renovated Boys & Girls Club of Costa Mesa

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Elguer Medina, 12, sets up blocks as he plays with a Vex 10, which children can use to study robotics and coding in the Maker Space at the newly renovated Boys & Girls Club of Costa Mesa on Tuesday.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

Children crowded against the glass doors of the newly renovated Boys & Girls Club of Costa Mesa, chanting “Let us in!” and bouncing with excitement.

When the doors opened two weeks ago, the flood of giddiness rushed in, awash with “oohs” and “aahs.”

“It looks like a hotel!” one child exclaimed.

Indeed, the spacious STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) labs lined with glass windows and colorful walls bore no resemblance to the cramped space that club members had come to call their after-school home.

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“I thought it was amazing,” said 10-year-old Valentina Anhielo. “I loved it.”

The Boys & Girls Club of Costa Mesa held its grand reopening Tuesday with a slew of dignitaries, community leaders and children in brightly colored club T-shirts.

The new design, which was built in about 4½ months, has more than doubled the club’s capacity from 125 children to 285. With an updated preschool space, a fully stocked area for young children and an expanded teen room complete with a kitchen and university-style study rooms, the club is set to serve children of all ages.

“I had a vision, I had a dream,” said Raul Jara, a board member for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Orange Coast for 22 years. “This is beyond that.”

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Aureo Tellez, a program manager, shows children a 3-D printer in the Maker Space room at the newly renovated Boys & Girls Club of Costa Mesa on Tuesday.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

Though the newly renovated building is on the same footprint as the original, the club that began some 60 years ago was torn down to its studs. It was the first major renovation since the Boys & Girls Club of Costa Mesa moved from its original location at Center Street and Anaheim Avenue in the mid-1950s, said director of marketing Kathy Corpuz.

Valentina was especially impressed by the Maker Space, with its engraving machine, drone-making kits, wood shop materials and other hands-on resources. She was excited to make a fire-breathing dragon from the 3-D printer.

“We’re preparing kids for jobs that haven’t been invented,” said Robert Santana, chief executive of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Orange Coast. “What we wanted to do through this generation is equip the next generation of leaders for the world that is waiting for them.”

Everything in the club is new, Santana said — the backpack hooks on the walls, the beanbag chairs stacked in the corner of the kinder room, the televisions in the teen center.

“They will respect this space because it’s theirs,” Santana said.

The walls in each room are peppered with colorful graphics and inspirational quotes. Printed on one STEAM lab wall is Dr. Seuss’ “Today you are you. That is truer than true. There is no one alive who is youer than you.” Even the bathrooms are inspirational — signs telling children “Be yourself” and “Confidence looks good on you!” replace mirrors above the sinks.

“There’s no difference between what we would expect for our own kids and what we would expect for kids here,” Santana said. “We made sure we didn’t cut any corner, and we looked at every single detail.”

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Students use tablets to control miniature robots in a STEAM lab at the Boys & Girls Club of Costa Mesa on Tuesday.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

Children spend an average of 3½ hours at the club every afternoon playing in the squeaky new gymnasium, taking enrichment classes and getting homework help, Santana said. Each child learns coding. Everyone spends an hour exercising.

“There’s really no limit to what we want kids to feel when they come in here,” Santana said, gesturing to the Maker Space.

The Costa Mesa renovations marked the first in a series of grand reopenings for the Central Orange Coast organization. Clubs in Santa Ana, Newport Beach and Irvine are expected to unveil their new remodels in the next several weeks. The total cost to renovate all four clubs amounted to $7.1 million, including a $1.5-million gift from local philanthropist Julia Argyros.

Argyros said she was compelled to give to the club after taking a tour of the old facilities two years ago.

“Once we walked in the building, it was natural,” she recalled. “I said we have to do whatever we can. … I saw the need.”

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