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Burb's Eye View: For now, the fire hall is where they play

March 05, 2013|By Bryan Mahoney

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.

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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.

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