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Boys and Girls Club task force finishes fact finding

After five months and eight, at times tenuous, meetings, the Laurel Boys and Girls Club task force had all but run its course when it met for the penultimate time last week.

"We've had, if nothing else, a full examination of all the elements of this," said task force Chairman Rick Wilson at the July 31 meeting. "The complexity of this is amazing. Someone once said, 'This problem is so complex that you have to be highly informed and terribly intelligent just to have no opinion on it.' That's probably where we are."

The task force, which was recommended to the City Council in February, is composed of 11 community members, eight chosen by city officials and three representatives of the club. Since its first meeting in April, the task force has met for a total of approximately 16 hours to review the club's financial records, programming, fundraising efforts, grants and government support. The goal of the task force is to make short- and long-term recommendations concerning "programs, funding and issues facing the club."

The task force, which was scheduled to meet six times, added two meetings to extend its research, according to Wilson.

Now that the fact-finding mission has concluded, the task force will compile a list of short and long-term recommendations, which will be approved at a final meeting in September and presented to the City Council later that month.

"What we will do is try to capture all this as faithfully as we can," Wilson said at the July 31 meeting. "Our vision and mission was defined to us by the city, and agreed to by the club. We are not the approver, all we get to do is make our recommendations."

Wilson said he and Vice Chairwoman Monique Holland will compile the recommendations into two categories: those approved by the majority of the task force and those recommendations that receive less of a consensus endorsement.

While the task forces' recommendations are wide-reaching, one recommendation will loom larger than all — how much money, if any, the city should give the club.

Task force member Adrian Rousseau, who sits on the club's board of directors, has been outspoken about the club's request for $250,000 of city funds and did not waiver at the conclusion of the task force.

"The club is worth being funded. ... I think we fund [the club] and one year from now, after we've funded the club, see if the investment was worth it," said Rousseau.

Holland, who works in the finance industry, recommended the city give the club, with certain parameters, at least $80,000.

"Now that's my heart talking ... but I'm conflicted on that," she said. "I think there needs to be improvements and changes, and some of those things need to be done before the city gives."

Holland advised the club to change the way it charges rent; increase its fundraising efforts; and increase the membership fee by at least $25 — which Holland says will increase revenue by $30,000 annually.

Holland also recommended the club raise 35 percent of its own funds before the city lends any assistance.

"Two clubs the [Laurel Boys and Girls Club] is modeling after have at least 35 percent of funds coming in from parents, donations both individual and corporate," Holland said.

Holland also said the deteriorating 114-year-old Phelps Center, which was the original Laurel High School and the first high school in Prince George's County, is a huge liability for the club. The building, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, was acquired for $1 from the county in 2002 after the county determined it was surplus property.

Task force member and former Laurel Mayor Robert DiPietro said he has never supported the club, or any other organization, using the building.

"The county school board left that building in the early '60s once they authorized the new high school," he said. "It was in deplorable condition then. It is in deplorable condition now."

DiPietro recommended the club turn their ownership of the building into a condominium arrangement, where the club would own the land but portions of the building could be owned by other organizations. DiPietro recommended the club retain ownership of the gym and the classrooms that were built onto the original high school building, and the city would take over the historic Phelps Center and the building's west wing.

"The city would get into the business of repairing the building because they are the only one who has the funding," DiPietro said. "If we explore that, I think there are reasons it could work."

Rousseau said he hopes the club does not have to give the building up, and that he and DiPietro could "agree to disagree."

DiPietro also recommended that the city set up a commission to advise the City Council on grant funding bestowed upon the club, similar to the city's Public Safety Commission, which advises the city on funding for the Laurel Volunteer Fire Department.

"This keeps the city in total control of the money," DiPietro said. "That is an extremely serious conversation, of who controls the money."

DiPietro said he would not recommend $250,000, but he would recommend a number higher than $80,000 for the grant program.

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