published Monday, September 24th, 2012

Youth Center construction set to start in Benton

IF YOU GO

* What: Ocoee Youth Center groundbreaking, Boys & Girls Club of Benton

* Where: 280 Campbell Road, Benton, Tenn.

* When: 10 a.m. Oct. 11

BENTON, Tenn. — The Boys & Girls Club of Benton is ready to break ground on its own facility after nearly five years of service to youth at a local church.

Construction of the Ocoee Youth Center, which begins Oct. 11 at 280 Campbell Road, is scheduled to be completed within six months, Benton Unit Director Cindy Hooker said.

"For two years this has been our goal," she said. "We're a baby organization, and we've come a long way."

A USDA Rural Development combined loan and grant package of $350,000 will pay for the center's construction, said Clay Copeland, a community programs specialist for the agency. The loan portion amounts to $300,000; the grant is $50,000.

The Polk County Commission has provided financial and other support to the club over the years. Commissioner John Pippenger long has championed the Boys & Girls Club, calling it a worthwhile cause in need of the county's support.

The Polk County Commission agreed to donate 3.76 acres for the facility in late 2010, with the option -- but not the obligation — to take over loan payments if the club failed financially. The estimated annual debt service for the $300,000 loan is $16,000.

The Benton Boys & Girls Club also has received between $12,000 and $15,000 annually from the county on a case-by-case basis in recent years, according to officials.

Hooker said such donations will help the club meet its annual loan payments, which are less than what the organization pays in rent to Mercy Tabernacle, where the club now operates.

With the establishment of its own facility, the Boys & Girls Club hopes to reinforce its identity and existence within the community, Hooker said.

"A lot of people still don't know we are here," she said of the club, which serves about 100 children each month. "A lot of people believe we are associated with the church, but we're our own organization."

Once the Ocoee Youth Center begins operations on Campbell Road, she expects membership and local financial support will increase. Hooker said.

A key goal, she said, is to pay off the 38-year loan from Rural Development in five years. A long-term objective is to provide transportation for children to and from the center.

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