As far as groundbreaking ceremonies go, BGC Ottawa kept it small, safe and socially distanced but expect a larger ribbon-cutting celebration once its new clubhouse is complete and able to open its doors to thousands of children and youth living in the south end of Ottawa.
Well-known Ottawa restaurateur Stephen Beckta, board chair of the nonprofit organization, welcomed a handful of distinguished guests to the “small but mighty” sod-turning event held this week adjacent to the fenced construction site on Heatherington Road. The outdoor gathering was to have happened weeks ago but was postponed with each COVID-19 pandemic-related lockdown extension.
All three levels of government, along with the business community, are supporting the building of a new clubhouse for the rebranded BGC Ottawa (formerly the Boys and Girls Club of Ottawa). It will offer free after-school programs and activities to children of all backgrounds living in the area to help them overcome barriers, develop positive peer relationships and build confidence and skills in a safe and inclusive environment. The federal and provincial governments are collectively kicking in $5 million towards the new facility, allowing the organization to serve considerably more youth than the organization's current small satellite location can.
Perhaps it was Gloucester-Southgate Ward Coun. Diane Deans who summed the mood up best when she said, at the podium: “This is a proud day for all of us, that we have come together and that we are going to see something significant that will be a lasting legacy in this community and that will transform lives.”
As well, the feel-good event included remarks from Ottawa South MP David McGuinty; Catherine McKenna, MP for Ottawa Centre and Minister of Infrastructure and Communities; Jeremy Roberts, MPP for Ottawa West-Nepean, and Mayor Jim Watson. Also out to show their support were city councillors Jean Cloutier (Alta Vista Ward) and Riley Brockington (River Ward), both of whom represent neighbouring ridings.
Michelle Taggart, a volunteer board member with BGC Ottawa, announced a $1.4 million gift from her family’s philanthropic Taggart Parkes Foundation. Taggart is vice-president of planning and development at Tamarack Homes, which operates under the umbrella of Taggart Group of Companies. Her family supports several charities that help children and youth, including the YMCA-YWCA, Christie Lake Kids and CHEO.
“Communities are at the heart of everything that we do and it’s wonderful to know that thousands of youth are going to have access to these life-changing services in a community that needs it a lot, in a time that needs it a lot,” said Taggart at the podium.
Attendees heard how Taggart tirelessly advocated behind the scenes, with Beckta and BGC Ottawa CEO Adam Joiner, to get the proposed clubhouse project over the finish line.
“We truly could not have done it without the support of all three levels of government, and so thank you to everyone who’s been involved,” said Taggart while acknowledging that she'd been “dreaming of this day.”
“It’s been a true community effort ... We’re so pleased the Taggart Parkes family can be part of it.”
The new south-end clubhouse is being named the Taggart Parkes Family Clubhouse. The family's $1.4 million donation goes toward a larger campaign to help cover the programming and services at the new location over the next five years.
“It’s one thing to get a building built,” said Beckta, “but if we can’t program it, if we can’t staff it, then it’s no good to the children and youth in our community.”
Roslyn Bern, president of the Leacross Foundation, attended, as did Sean Lundy, president and CEO of Lundy Construction, which is building the 15,000-square-foot clubhouse and is among the construction industry supporters of the project. The facility, being designed by Hobin Architecture, will offer better protection against COVID-19 and other viruses, energy efficiencies and better high-quality air exchange.
Lundy told OBJ.social the clubhouse will be substantially complete by the end of the year. With the foundation now laid, construction on the above-ground structure is to begin next week.
“The building is really being built to stand the test of time, to serve the community as long as possible,” Lundy noted.
Occupancy for the Taggart Parkes Family Clubhouse is planned for next spring.
Joiner told the representatives from the three levels of government how “humbled and honoured” BGC Ottawa was to have them “tangibly show that they believe in our community’s young people.”
The nearly century-old organization serves an average of 4,500 children and youth, annually, at its clubhouses and satellite locations throughout Ottawa, and overnight summer camp, Camp Smitty. He and Beckta are proud and passionate alumni of the organization, which has an ambitious goal to double its members and impact by 2024.
Beckta spoke about how the city has gone “above and beyond” to ensure the project proceeds in a timely manner, from getting the building permits approved and the development charges deferred. BGC Ottawa is paying a nominal rate of $1 per year for use of the land.
The mayor, in his brief remarks, thanked his colleagues on city council for advocating on behalf of a neighbourhood in need of “a little bit of tender loving care”.
The site for the future clubhouse was formerly a municipal public works yard before it was decommissioned and deemed surplus to the city’s needs. Deans said it was important to her that the property was put to civic use.
“I can tell you, with vulnerable communities like this one here, public land is a rare commodity and it’s a very important thing for communities that don’t have a lot of open space for young people and for families,” said Deans. “With that in mind, I fought hard to keep this land, with the vision that some day perhaps this could be developed for a community need.
“I tell you, I stand here with pride today looking at this site and recognizing that that vision is actually becoming a reality.”