After class alternatives for middle school students

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It’s simply called “The Club,” which could inspire images of an upscale lounge designed to attract an adult clientele.

But the envisioned future for the Lloyd Cooper Armory on Sandy Lane is hardly that. Starting in September, it promises to become the cool place to be for 6th, 7th and 8th graders.

On Thursday at the Norwood Branch of the Warwick Boys and Girls Clubs, club executive director Lara D’Antuono was joined by Mayor Scott Avedisian to announce that the Army Reserve Armory, which now belongs to the city, would become the venue for a third clubhouse aimed at serving middle school students. The “surprise” of the evening was the announcement of a $100,000 matching grant from the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts. The funds will be used for an arts center at The Club.

The arts center is just a part of the facilities planned for The Club. With a $50,000 contribution from Balise Motor Sales, the armory meeting area will be transformed into a gym/theater. D’Antuono is also planning on a recording studio, education/computer center, multi-media creative center, teen center and mind, body and soul wellness studio.

D’Antuono expects about 300 middle school students will use The Club, but thinks because of the activities could become the in place for even more, once the full slate of offerings are up and running. She’s uncertain as to what she’ll do then, but it’s a problem she looks forward to solving.

The immediate effort is to serve an age group that is especially vulnerable to peer pressure and if not properly mentored, capable of going down the wrong path. She points out that the city offers many athletic options for the age group, “but for those who want to explore and develop artistic interests and creativity in transformative ways after school, there is currently nothing.”

The concept of The Club has been developed over several months and has involved the work of a committee headed by Sean Collins and a survey of more than 500 parents of middle school students. Partners in the effort are the Warwick Schools, Rhode Island School of Design, New England Institute of Technology and the Warwick Center for the Arts.

The city will lease the space to the Boys and Girls Clubs for one dollar a year. The armory will house other groups as well, including recreation and park offices, the Police Athletic League and senior activities that Avedisian sees as giving The Club an intergeneration component.

“This latest collaboration between the city and the Boys and Girls Clubs of Warwick truly exemplifies the great working relationship that has been cultivated over the years to bring our youth the best possible programs and services,” he said in a statement.

Avedisian said that in addition to the new STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) activities, The Club will further cultivate the Boys and Girls Clubs’ “mission to guide our youths into becoming well-rounded and well-adjusted students, friends and future leaders.”

In a release, Bill Peffer, president and COO of Balise, said the company jumped at the opportunity of joining the team to support the project.

“Balise is proud to be sponsoring the creation of a cutting-edge gym and performance space, complete with indoor turf, simulators and rock wall.”

In addition to Balise and the Council for the Arts, the Rhode Island Foundation has announced a $75,000 grant for staffing.

Inez Merchan, grants program officer at the foundation, observed The Club will provide a safe place to ply and learn.

“Reaching out to these youngsters now ensures they will have the support they need to lead healthy lives and achieve educational success.”

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