By Mike Genet

A year after a sparkling renovation and re-opening in Independence, the Leslie Unit of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Kansas City is ready for a significant expansion.

The renovation of the unit, located on Leslie Street next to Thomas Hart Benton Elementary school, was made possible in part by funding from the Kansas City Royals as part of the Major League Baseball All-Star Game celebration. Now, with the necessary funds for phase two in hand, the Clubs can begin a $1.6 million expansion of the unit that will provide a teen center for Club members.

Officials conducted the ceremonial groundbreaking Tuesday afternoon off the south end of the building, amidst a nearby chorus of happily loud children using the outdoor playground area.

“To have kids playing in the background, you couldn’t ask for a better setting for this conversation,” said Terry Bassham of Independence Power and Light.

“It’s been a pleasure to watch this place grow and be what it’s meant to be,” added Mayor Don Reimal. “Let’s keep this organization growing and going.”

Before they spoke, five-year Club member Courtney Calhoun thanked the teachers and volunteers at the Boys & Girls Club and talked about how the people and activities have helped her life.

“I love all the staff and what this club stands for,” said Calhoun, who is a sophomore at William Chrisman High School. “I can’t wait until the teenagers get to enjoy this.”

Dave Smith, president of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Kansas City as well as a Club alumnus, said plans for the renovation and expansion of the Independence unit were in place in 2007, just before the national economic nose-dive.

“We had this project teed up, and we had to put it off,” Smith said. “We’ve made it a marquee project.

“This building may be 50 years old, but you can see the beautiful renovation,” he said while giving a quick pre-ceremony tour through the various rooms.

The expansion will raise the unit’s daily capacity to 250 youth, a near-50-percent increase. Notable additions in the 9,000-square-foot project include a fitness center and recording center, Smith told the ceremony crowd.

The additional space, he said, certainly will get filled, as the unit is “bursting at the seams” with membership.

“We’re pretty much at capacity,” Smith said. “I’m excited about the opportunity to get provide this for the older kids, and keep the younger ones.”