SAN MARCOS — What formerly sat as an empty retail space in the Richmar neighborhood of San Marcos just a year ago has transformed into a buzzing clubhouse offering daily recreation, education and support programs for dozens of local youth.
The new 6,000 square-foot clubhouse on Autumn Drive, known as the Walter J. & Betty C. Zable Foundation Boys & Girls Club, is a branch of the Boys & Girls Club of San Marcos located less than half a mile from the main site on Positive Place which they have outgrown in recent years.
On June 28, club leaders, city officials and community members gathered to officially celebrate the opening of the brand-new space equipped with a games room, community connections center, learning and technology centers, arts room and demonstration kitchen.
“At the Boys & Girls Club of San Marcos, it’s our job to make sure that all young people can achieve their full potential. This new facility has endless possibilities for just that,” Cathy Baur, President and CEO of Boys & Girls Club of San Marcos, said. “This building is designed from the front to the back to equip youth with the tools they need to build a great future.”
Construction on the clubhouse began last year after the city of San Marcos offered the Boys & Girls Club a rare opportunity — a 30-year renewable lease at the cost of $1 per year and $1.2 million in funding via American Rescue Plan Act funds to make the space a reality.
Additional funds were raised through the Building Great Futures Capital Campaign, with the Walter J. and Betty C. Zable Foundation selected as the clubhouse namesake after providing a $200,000 gift and agreeing to match all donations up to $125,000 dollar for dollar.
“Many of you were here a year ago. We began the goal to raise $2 million to transform what was an empty concrete shell into this warm, inviting clubhouse,” Baur said. “I am so thankful to report that just 364 days later, we’re already serving [over] 125 kids every single day out of this clubhouse.”
Participating youth at the clubhouse include students from San Marcos Elementary School as well as residents of the nearby Westlake Villages affordable housing complex.
City officials recognized the clubhouse as a much-needed asset in the revitalized Richmar neighborhood, where over 500 youth live in affordable housing complexes and the average yearly income is around $30,000.
“When the city was looking for the perfect community-focused tenant to occupy this vacant space where it stands today, we presented the Boys & Girls Club a great offer because we knew investing in our kids is something we should do and want to do,” said San Marcos Mayor Rebecca Jones.
One of the main draws of the space is the EDCO games room making up the main area, where kids can enjoy air hockey, an interactive Exergames T-wall, an eight-person foosball table and legos.
Off of the games room is the demonstration kitchen, where youth could be seen baking and decorating cookies to share with attendees at the opening ceremony, and the makers space for drawing, painting and other artistic endeavors.
Further down the hall, the Alexander & Eva Nemeth Learning Lab is intended to promote academic success, offering homework help and tutoring for students and set up with desks and Chromebooks, and the North City Tech Center offers access to computers, coding programs, virtual reality goggles and robotics.
“Especially with this space, I’ve had a lot of kids saying, ‘Oh, I’ve never been able to try this before,’” site director Chelsea Piedras said of the technology center. “They’re getting the opportunity to apply new skills.”
A former San Marcos “club kid” herself, the opening of the clubhouse is particularly meaningful to Piedras. She understands that for these kids, having a space that is just theirs creates a sense of pride and responsibility.
“The principal at San Marcos Elementary said it best, that when the kids can take pride in the space, it impacts how they act in the space,” she said. “It’s really cool to see it come full circle, to see it grow from being a concrete box to having kids in it.”