AFES breaks ground on new facility

Work will officially begin on a new gym for Athletics for Education and Success, capping off a 20-month fundraising campaign.

Supporters, board members and local dignitaries including Fort Dodge Mayor Matt Bemrich and state Sen. Daryl Beall gathered for an official groundbreaking and celebration at AFES Thursday night.

The program, which offers education, mentoring groups, sports and after-school programs, is outgrowing the elementary school-sized gym in its current location in the former Hillcrest Elementary School, according to Director Charles Clayton. The new facility would also allow them to host events.

Don Woodruff has been involved in this project since the beginning, Clayton said. Woodruff, of Woodruff construction, helped greatly in securing donations and help from businesses. In fact, numerous companies will make in-kind donation to build the facility.

“Terry (Ahlers, of Ahlers Architects) is donating his time,” Woodruff said, “we’re donating our time, Bemrich electric, McClure Engineering and others are stepping up to the plate and really trying to make this as fiscally responsible as we can.”

The new gym will have two high-school sized basketball courts, he said. Work will begin as soon as possible and should be done by early spring.

“About $450,000 to $500,000 is what the total cost would be if we weren’t getting so much support,” Clayton said. “When all is said and done its probably the cheapest building of its kind that’s gone up.”

Clayton praised the late Jerry Patterson, who helped found the Patterson Field complex and donated nearly 60 years of his life to local youth programs, as one of the inspirations for AFES.

“This has been a legacy of Fort Dodge. I don’t think I’m doing anything different than Jerry Patterson did,” Clayton said. “He was like a father to me. I think I’m carrying on what Jerry started. … It’s the same things that Jerry did for all of us when we were kids stumbling along the way.”

Bemrich praised the nonprofit organization for providing “some love and nurturing for some young people in our community that need that special attention, that need that extra set of eyes, that extra voice of concern that not every kid gets at home.

“I think it will help shape and mold great citizens in our community for years and years to come,” he said.

Beall thanked Clayton for being a model of good leadership, and passing that quality along to the kids in his program.

The program teaches leadership qualities that are needed everywhere – “in the schoolhouse, or in the courthouse, in the city hall or statehouse or in the White House,” he said.

“Again, I really appreciate all you’ve done for this community,” Beall said. “You’ve given back more in your young life than most give in a life time. So God bless you.”

Ann Halbur has been capital campaign chair for Project Slam, which raised funds for the building.

“Your staff helps build stronger students, and on behalf of all the (Greater Fort Dodge) Growth Alliance, we’re excited for you and the future of AFES,” Halbur said.

AFES started as an idea in 2004, Clayton said.

“Myself and some friends just got together and wanted to give back. That’s where this all started, probably in a room no bigger than this in the Snell building,” he said. “Everything tended to grow and grow, and get bigger and get bigger, so we’ve been blessed to be in this community, and to have all the support.”