PITTSFIELD -- The Boys & Girls Club of Pittsfield's long history is captured in the vintage black and white photographs that line its walls.
Boys playing a game called carrom in 1941. A biddy basketball all-star team from 1953. A fitness class in the old gymnasium with a track situated above the floor that was torn down in 1959.
Now the Boys & Girls Club is embarking on an initiative that it hopes will add new memories to an organization that has been located in the same Melville Street building for 95 years.
The club recently completed a $3 million renovation project that Executive Director Peter E. Bell hopes will make high school-age youngsters decide to spend more time at the facility.
The improvements include the construction of a separate fitness room behind the club's basketball courts, and a renovation of the "Lighthouse" area in the basement, which was a popular teen hangout during the 1960s and ‘70s.
The Boys & Girls Club held an open house on Thursday night to formally introduce the improvements to the public.
The project began four years ago, and included two years of construction. The Boys & Girls Club borrowed $2.7 million by using its $15 million stock portfolio as collateral. The current project was preceded by a $3.5 million initiative that paid mostly for infrastructure improvements in the club's 120,000-square-foot facility. Executive Director Peter E. Bell said the infrastructure initiative needed to be completed
"You can't do anything initially if you have leaky roofs," he said.
The number of high schoolers who belong to the Boys & Girls Club has remained fairly constant over the years, Bell said. But, an influx of elementary and middle school students, who are often accompanied by their parents, has gradually "pushed out" the high schoolers over the past 10 to 15 years, Bell added.
"What's gone down is the amount of time they spend in here," Bell said. "They're here, but it's usually for something specific, like hockey."
"High school kids don't want to hang out with the little ones or at the same place as mom or dad."
Before upgrading the facilities, Bell said the club received a "long laundry list of ideas" from high schoolers, middle schoolers and their parents. One of those proposals was the fitness center, which opened six weeks ago.
The fitness room, which cost $350,000 for construction and equipment, includes treadmills, exercise bikes, universal weight machines, and a free weight area. Its use will be limited strictly to high school age youngsters, although eighth-graders will also be allowed to use the facility in January.
"Hopefully this will not just be a fitness room," Bell said, "but a social room as well."
The Lighthouse, so named because its original stage resembled a ship, has been reconfigured into an all- purpose area where a variety of activities can take place. The club raised the floor of the original dance area and removed the stage. There is space for four meeting rooms that are separated by temporary walls and there is also a cafe.
"Flexibility is the key," Bell said.
The Lighthouse will be open to high and middle schoolers until 4 p.m. when it is opened for everybody. But only high schoolers are allowed to use the Lighthouse after 8 p.m.
How the new facilities will be utilized will be decided in part by the 64 members of the Boys & Girls Club's senior council, which is made up of high schoolers. Bell is hoping that the high schoolers can act as role models for the club's younger members.
"If the high school kids are doing it right, they have a much better chance of affecting a middle schooler than some old guy like me in the corner office," he said.