Rori Knudtson Special to the Democrat
May 9, 2014
Sometimes, all it takes is determination. The rest of the pieces begin to come together once that commitment is made.
The former Durant Middle School, left vacant for several years, is about to experience the beginning of a new life, and this new life promises to give many opportunities to the citizens of Durant. What began as a dream many years ago by several community members, is becoming a reality for many Durant-based individuals, groups and businesses. And most of all, this is benefiting the children of Durant.
This Saturday, May 10 from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., the Durant Boys and Girls Club, one of two main organizers for the former middle school site, is hosting a community clean-up day at their new location. Participants can register at the Boys and Club entrance at 415 North 5th Ave. or on the opposite side at the School of Critical Engagement’s entrance at 410 North 6th Ave. From there, the two organizations will be putting participants to work moving items out of the building and cleaning the interior in order to make it possible for the Boys and Girls Club and other tenants to begin moving into the building later this month.
“The move is a huge accomplishment not just for the Boys and Girls Club, but for the community,” Jason Sands, Director of the Durant Boys and Girls Club said. “I was just lucky enough to inherit the leg work the people before me envisioned. This is a tremendous situation, not just for Durant, but for all of Bryan County. This is working on a county-wide scale.”
While the Boys and Girls Club will occupy the east side of the building and begin to grow the number of children they serve with after school and summer programming, the west side of the building is being managed by the School of Critical Engagement (SoCE, Inc.), an international art and architecture organization that has been working in other cities for several years helping to connect community members to grass-roots city planning and real estate development opportunities. They are beginning to accept applications for business tenants that are interested in working alongside the Boys and Girls Club in mentoring and activities. SoCE, Inc. is also interested in working with local seniors to develop intergenerational programs.
SoCE, Inc. has worked nationally and even internationally in projects like the former middle school site since its beginning in Detroit in 2010. It is setting up its official U.S. headquarters in Durant this summer. Tenants of the middle school will have access to not just the amenities on this site, but a national and international network of other creative business and entrepreneurs concerned with their local communities. There will also be activities that begin to occur this summer, programmed by both the Boys and Girls Club and SoCE, Inc. This will range from summer sports camps to temporary architecture, gardening and eating events, and music, that can begin to allow both organizations learn about what is possible to transform this site over the next few years from a dilapidated and forgotten school to a community beacon. In addition, a film series will begin this summer offering movies to the community that will be family-oriented and educational.
“It is a huge testament to see that the community had the foresight to make this happen, and it’s about understanding the impact,” Sands said. “So many saw and understood the impact this could have on the city in a positive wa y— they opened their eyes to make this happen. And they did.”
Sands elaborated on the benefits the move will have for the Boys and Girls Club.
“Our current location has been great, but the location itself and the space were limiting us from growth,” he said. “This move will allow us to serve the needs of those children who need us the most.
“We will have a greater impact in our new location. This is not just about Durant anymore either. It’s about the Caddos, Silos, Caleras and Benningtons. The children living in these communities have parents coming to work in Durant. They are attending school in Durant. They now will have a place to go after school.”
The Boys and Girls Club is expecting to triple the number of children it is serving from 110 to at least 300 a day. Sands said that they are planning a basketball and football camp and further expansion on the athletics program. They are also developing a technology program as well as more educational programs.
“This weekend, we are hoping to see the community come together to start something huge,” he said. “This is an educational institute historically that will begin to educate the whole community. If your wood is not on fire about what is going on here, it can’t be lit. You wood is just a bit too wet and soggy.”
For more information about this weekend’s event and to get involved, contact Jason Sands of the Durant Boys and Girls Club at (580) 380-6554 or (580) 579-2423. For more information about leasing for a creative pursuit, contact Deborah Knudtson of the School of Critical Engagement at (580) 448-0574.