NorthStar boys center takes shape

Steel framing for the front of the NorthStar Foundation's after-school center for boys was recently built. That part of the building, located at 48th Street and Ames Avenue, will house a lobby, classrooms, offices and a kitchen.

It's getting easier to envision the completed NorthStar after-school center for boys.

Framing began recently for the building on the Omaha Home for Boys campus near 50th Street and Ames Avenue, said Scott Hazelrigg, president of the nonprofit NorthStar Foundation, the group behind the center.

He said the building is on track to be done by May 1. The foundation has raised more than $11 million in a $13.8 million capital campaign for the project, which includes an endowment. Hazelrigg hopes to wrap up fundraising in the first quarter of 2014.

Kiewit Construction Co. broke ground for the building last November.

The center will be the first in Omaha to offer all-male after-school programs. Activities will focus on academic achievement, athletics and healthy lifestyles, adventure and experiential learning, arts immersion and employment readiness.

Workers poured the 14,000-square-foot gym floor earlier this month. They put down sod on the soccer and football field in May, the same month that they poured footings and the building's foundation.

The steel framing for the front of the building is the first thing you see when you approach it from 48th and Ames Streets. That part of the structure will house a lobby, classrooms, offices and a kitchen. Like its counterpart for females, Girls Inc., the NorthStar program will serve dinner for its boys each weekday.

The gym is behind that space. In September, framing of the building will be complete and a brick veneer will be installed. The building will be totally enclosed by November.

Hazelrigg said hiring for staffers will begin in the fourth quarter of this year and proceed in January and February 2014. The NorthStar Foundation will be looking for a director, program developers, athletic program workers and outreach staff, among other positions.

He plans to launch some short preliminary programs next summer and full-time activities will start in time for the 2014-2015 school year.

NorthStar leaders chose the site for the center so it would be a seven-minute drive for 1,325 boys who attend three middle schools (Monroe, McMillan and Nathan Hale); three high schools (Benson, North and Northwest); and 13 elementary schools (Belvedere Academy, Benson West, Central Park, Fontenelle, Hartman, King, Mount View, Pinewood, Rosehill, Springville, Wakonda, Holy Name and Jesuit Academy.)

“We wanted to be close to the epicenter of male, school-age youth in northeast Omaha,” Hazelrigg said.

The site, on land leased from the Omaha Home for Boys also is close to the location of the former Park Crest apartments, long known for criminal activity. The NorthStar Foundation bought the apartments and tore down all but one of the buildings. Heartland Family Service is remodeling the remaining building for use as a center for mothers recovering from addiction, among other things.

The Heartland project concerns some neighbors who worry about extra traffic, devalued homes and safety.

Hazelrigg said, however, that he hasn't heard any complaints from neighbors about the after-school center.

He said he has walked the four blocks surrounding the new center talking to neighbors and has gotten positive feedback. He also had neighborhood meetings at Fontenelle Park and continues to update small groups about construction progress and to get the word out to parents of boys who may want to use the center.

The center is only for boys because Omaha doesn't have an all-male after-school program, Hazelrigg said. Studies have shown that boys and girls learn differently.

And, he said, laughing: “Boys are more physical and loud.”

Heartland Family Service's Ruth Solomon Center and Girls Inc. serve young women in Omaha. Girls Inc., is part of a national organization that specializes in after-school programs.

There's no national all-boys counterpart to Girls Inc., Hazelrigg said. He didn't rule out the possibility that NorthStar could expand and fill that role, but he's not thinking about that now.

“The goal for us is to begin to deliver our model, and perfect it, and affect the lives of kids in this neighborhood,” he said. “If you do your job well, who knows — it may lead to other things.”

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