The Gregory & Suzie Glazer Burt Boys and Girls Club opened this week at Drake University with close to 150 kids a day playing games, learning in computer labs, having snacks and meals, and preparing for choir and orchestra activities. See the photo gallery

CEO Jodie Warth and Unit Director Kendra Allen on Tuesday took Business Record photographer Duane Tinkey and me on a tour of the new $7.2 million, 18 months-in-the-making Gregory & Suzie Glazer Burt Boys and Girls Club at Drake University. It’s just the third such club in the nation located on a private university campus. 

Suzie Burt is a member of the Drake University board of trustees. Her mother, Maddie Levitt, also was a trustee and a Drake legend. Burt and her husband, Greg, gave both a lead gift for the club and a $1 million gift for the Shivers Basketball Practice Facility across Forest Avenue. 

During the tour of the 21,000-square-foot building, nearly 150 K-12 boys and girls were busy playing video games, working in a computer lab and participating in activities behind multiple-layer security. At this moment, the shiny multipurpose gymnasium and the locked music room were idle, but probably not for long. An outside play area includes two basketball courts.

The club will even have an orchestra fueled by private lessons coordinated through the Des Moines Symphony Academy’s Project Encore, with financial support from Harry Bookey and Pamela Bass-Bookey, and a choir assisted by the Heartland Youth Choir. 

The facility southeast of Drake Stadium along Forest Avenue is full of natural light and bright colors, seeming like a combination of a science center and a jazzed-up community center. Its airy design came from Shive-Hattery. Weitz Corp. was the general contractor. 

“We kept going back with ideas because we didn’t want it to look like a school,” Warth said. Families are asked to pay $10 per year for each child attending club activities during the school year. Summer sessions are either free or have a nominal fee. 

Drake President Marty Martin has said repeatedly that the club shows Drake’s commitment to the neighborhood, which is now seeing commercial construction to the south and east of campus. He also has said that when he sees the children at the club, he sees potential Drake students. 

“Our vision is that once these students step on campus for Boys & Girls Club, they will leave with a diploma from Drake,” Martin told the Business Record in a previous interview. The club also is a community facility, and soon will offer a food pantry. 

Located just down the street from Drake’s new STEM campus, the club plans to take full advantage of the university’s volunteers and resources. Administrators already discovered they might be able to check out a 3D printer from Drake. 

The kitchen has two areas: a four-range section where students will learn to cook, and a second kitchen where a contractor will serve snacks and meals to kids attending sessions at the club. 

One room offers a chance for creativity, even if it’s messy. Another is a space for anything from a book club to journalism projects, cooking, healthy habits, character and leadership lessons and academics. 

Warth and her staff projected attendance of 90 a day at the Burt facility. It’s been running about 150 in this, the first week of operations, and there are 210 applications on file. She figures 250 is capacity. Much of that depends on staffing levels, Warth said. A previous effort at a nearby church drew 50 kids a day. 

Said Allen: “I think that is meaningful how many middle-schoolers we’re serving here. We have a huge population of teens at the site, and that is our hardest population to capture. That’s what we had hoped to do with the cool gym.”

The Drake project is part of a broader overhaul of the whole Boys and Girls Clubs network in Greater Des Moines in an effort called Club Pathways.

The back story on the club features some of the biggest benefactors in Drake history. It was born of discussions between Drake President Marty Martin before the ink was even dry on his Bulldog sweatshirt, and longtime philanthropist Suzie Glazer Burt, whose family is famous in Des Moines circles for supporting Drake and many causes. Read that story from our archives below. 

See the photo gallery