Bengals one step closer to gym

Gym dreams: The Bustleton Bengals are rais­ing money to build a gym at Hayes Play­ground at Con­well Av­en­ue and Roosevelt Boulevard. MARIA POUCH­NIKOVA / TIMES PHOTO

The Bustleton Bengals youth sports or­gan­iz­a­tion has long dreamed of hav­ing a gym­nas­i­um of its own.

The planned gym would be at Robert Hayes Play­ground, at Roosevelt Boulevard and Con­well Av­en­ue, where the group’s club­house is loc­ated.

City Coun­cil­man Bri­an O’Neill has com­mit­ted to fund­ing 90 per­cent of the pro­ject, and the Bengals are work­ing hard to try to raise the rest. The es­tim­ated over­all cost is $1 mil­lion to $1.2 mil­lion.

“We’re tak­ing baby steps, but we’re get­ting there,” said Kev­in Hughes, pres­id­ent of the or­gan­iz­a­tion and a mem­ber since 1989.

“There’s still a ways to go, but we’re mov­ing in the right dir­ec­tion. We’ll keep plug­ging. Our people are be­hind us,” said Vince Tar­ducci, the gym pro­ject dir­ect­or.

The former Bustleton Boys Club has served neigh­bor­hood youths since 1956. More than 1,000 fam­il­ies are part of “Bengal Na­tion,” which of­fers bas­ket­ball, base­ball, soft­ball, tee-ball, foot­ball, soc­cer, hockey, cheer­lead­ing and fish­ing to boys and girls 4 and older.

“We need a gym for the com­munity. We’re keep­ing kids in­volved and off the street,” said Chris Mc­Nich­olas, the gym fun­drais­ing dir­ect­or.

The gym would be at­tached to the club­house to make it more cost-ef­fect­ive. It would fea­ture a full-length bas­ket­ball court, two side courts, bleach­ers, an ex­pan­ded kit­chen, a small meet­ing room, stor­age space and han­di­capped-ac­cess­ible bath­rooms.

The fa­cil­ity would be built on an angle and in such a way that it would not in­fringe on the hockey court or base­ball fields. A bat­ting cage would be re­lo­cated.

The build­ing would be roughly 70 feet wide and 120 feet long.

“Any trees that we’d have to take down, we would re­place some­where else on the grounds,” Hughes said.

The gym has been talked about for two dec­ades, but hasn’t moved for­ward for one reas­on or an­oth­er.

At present, there is reas­on for op­tim­ism.

O’Neill has money set aside for the gym.

“There’s a scarcity of gym time in the Far North­east,” he said.

The city will also pay for the util­it­ies and any ma­jor re­pairs.

Still, the coun­cil­man un­der­stands that it is dif­fi­cult for a group of vo­lun­teers to raise at least $100,000, es­pe­cially in a poor eco­nomy.

An­oth­er obstacle is the lack of state fund­ing. Back in 1999, when the Somer­ton Youth Or­gan­iz­a­tion gym opened on Southamp­ton Road, the es­tim­ated cost of $700,000 was split evenly between the city and the state.

O’Neill wants to see the pro­ject com­pleted be­cause he is im­pressed by the en­ergy and com­mit­ment of the vo­lun­teers, and their will­ing­ness to op­er­ate a build­ing of their own. He’d also like to see some new play­ground equip­ment in­stalled, now that a gym loc­a­tion has been de­term­ined.

The Bengals are grate­ful for O’Neill’s long­time sup­port and for a couple of area pub­lic schools that al­low them to use their gyms.

“We’re very ap­pre­ci­at­ive that we’re able to use Anne Frank and Baldi,” Tar­ducci said. “Without them, we wouldn’t be able to have a bas­ket­ball pro­gram.”

The gym would be used, primar­ily, for bas­ket­ball and in­door soc­cer games and prac­tices.

“The gym could be open every week­end all year,” Tar­ducci said. “We’d have the keys.”

“Court time in the area is at a premi­um,” Hughes said. “We’re trudging from school to school. And we don’t know year to year if we can get these neigh­bor­hood schools be­cause of budget cuts.”

The fact that there has been no ground­break­ing could be hurt­ing the fun­drais­ing,  but pro­gress is be­ing made.

The gym com­mit­tee star­ted to meet with ar­chi­tects and con­tract­ors last Novem­ber.

In Janu­ary, the city avi­ation de­part­ment — which owns the ground — gave its OK to build there. The Bengals already help keep the grounds clean by re­mov­ing trash and debris.

In Feb­ru­ary, the club held its second an­nu­al beef-and-beer be­ne­fit, help­ing to in­crease its cof­fers to about $60,000.

The com­mit­tee has sent out fun­drais­ing let­ters, held candle sales and is plan­ning a Coach Bag Bingo event. Money could also be gen­er­ated by selling spon­sor­ship on signs, at the mid­court floor and in the gym’s four corners.

Bengals of­fi­cials have met with the people who over­saw the build­ing of gyms for Liberty Bell Youth Or­gan­iz­a­tion, Rhawn­hurst Ath­let­ic As­so­ci­ation and St. Martha.

By the end of May, they hope to start re­quest­ing bids from con­tract­ors. A site plan, soil samples and build­ing per­mits are also part of the pro­cess. Ground­break­ing could take place by late 2014.

The Bengals cel­eb­rated base­ball open­ing day on Sat­urday, and hope to cel­eb­rate the grand open­ing of a gym some­time in the near fu­ture.

“It would be a dream come true,” Mc­Nich­olas said.

Dona­tions to the gym fund can be sent to Bustleton Bengals Club, P.O. Box 6103, Phil­adelphia, PA 19115. For more in­form­a­tion on the gym ini­ti­at­ive, vis­it www.bustleton­ ••

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