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Article and photos provided by the Rocky Mount Telegram
WILLIAM F. WEST Staff Writer

The Boys & Girls Clubs of the Tar River Region intends to transform the former National Guard armory into a state-of-the-art location to prepare teens to be developed for the workforce and to focus on what their needs are.

“You’re going to see a facility that spans beyond just those walls,” the clubs’ regional CEO, Ron Green, said in an interview Thursday afternoon.

The City Council, by consent at the council’s July 10 regular meeting, deeded to the clubs the former armory buildings and grounds, which are off Walnut Street just off the busy West Raleigh Boulevard.

Green in the interview spoke of spending roughly $5 million to upgrade the former armory and said he believes he and his team can come up with the funds.

Green said he and his team are looking to have the improved location ready for a ribbon-cutting ceremony by the first quarter of 2025.

He pointed out: “We’re looking to turn this ASAP.”

Overall, Green spoke of developing a place where he and his team can help young people start dreaming again about growing up and being something in life.

Green also spoke of the community around the former armory needing revitalization and of a belief in the buildings and grounds being the perfect things to start revitalizing that community and to be a safe haven for teenagers.

He recalled there once having been a time when people said they wanted to be, for example, a doctor, police officer or plumber.

“And now, you know, a lot of that has gone away, and kids have stopped dreaming,” he said.

He said he and his team are going try to rebuild or relaunch those dreams and give them a facility where they can make their dreams become reality.

He said that the goal in the first year is to have an average of 50 teenagers a day at the location and to increase that number up to about 100 teenagers a day.

The Boys & Girls Clubs of the Tar River Region is based at the Station Square business and professional complex downtown.

Green said that presently, the clubs are serving youth from ages 5 to 18 at the Lucy Ann Boddie Brewer Clubhouse off West Raleigh near the former armory, at Williford Elementary School along Williford Street, at Nash Central Middle School in Nashville and at Stocks Elementary School in Tarboro.

Green said that the clubs presently are averaging 500 youth a day at these locations combined and that the number of youth at the former armory would be in addition to those 500 youth a day average combined.

On Thursday afternoon, Green, clubs Board Chairman Bill Farmer and clubs board member Todd Hinson walked through the inside of the former armory.

“Oh, this is an exciting period,” Farmer said.

Farmer said he believes that the goal is for youth to be able to earn money to be able to pay for a good life for themselves.

“And that comes with a quality education — and this is what this represents,” Farmer said.

Hinson is also upbeat about the clubs having obtained the former armory buildings and grounds.

“It’s a long time coming and a dream that we’ve probably never even realized we would have for a long time,” Hinson said.

Hinson also said he believes this is transformational, not only for the clubs but also for the youth, the surrounding community and the city.

“What’s going to happen here is incredible — and I think the fruits of what will come out of it will be, you know, lifelong changes,” Hinson said.

The keys to the former armory were handed over to Rocky Mount’s government in 2018 after about six decades as the home of local National Guard units.

Green said that he and the rest of the leadership of the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Tar River Region had been thinking about constructing a location for teens next to the Brewer Clubhouse on land donated by Chambliss & Rabil, which is in the commercial real estate and construction business.

Green said that City Council members approached him and said, “Hey, what about the National Guard armory?”

Green said that the response from him and the rest of the leadership of the clubs was, “We’d be interested in looking at it … and we’d be interested in having a conversation about it.”

Out of that conversation came a new vision.

“We went in — and we viewed it and we saw that it had some really solid bones,” he said.

According to Green on Thursday, talks are in progress with representatives of Capitol Broadcasting Co. in connection with the next steps for the clubs.

Nash County Holdings, a company with close ties to Capitol Broadcasting, in September 2022 acquired the former Rocky Mount baseball stadium from Nash County Schools. The stadium is just on the north side of the former armory buildings and grounds.

Capitol Broadcasting owns Raleigh-based television station WRAL and the Rocky Mount Mills commercial and residential development.

Green said of the former stadium, “We are in the conversation right now of them gifting it to us as well to make it a full campus.”