Construction nearing completion, big changes coming to La Mesa

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Construction is nearing completion in La Mesa on the newest clubhouse to be operated by Boys and Girls Clubs of East County (BGCEC).

The new Brady Family Clubhouse will house the Gagon Academy, a state-of-the-art learning center and homework room, as well as the Bill Walton Gymnasium. Opening day is expected sometime in late September or early October, according to Forrest Higgins, CEO of BGCEC.

Construction is nearing completion in La Mesa on the newest clubhouse to be operated by Boys and Girls Clubs of East County (BGCEC).

The new Brady Family Clubhouse will house the Gagon Academy, a state-of-the-art learning center and homework room, as well as the Bill Walton Gymnasium. Opening day is expected sometime in late September or early October, according to Forrest Higgins, CEO of BGCEC.

“Our dream will soon become a reality, but none of it would have been possible without a dedicated commitment and participation by our local community,” said Higgins. “It’s a textbook example of community collaboration. I can’t emphasize enough how much the community’s support has made a difference and played such an important role in building a new standalone clubhouse that will serve children for generations to come.”

The new 26,000-square-foot clubhouse, largest of the six BGCEC facilities in the East County, is located past a sports field on the west end of the La Mesa Arts Academy (LMAAC), previously known as La Mesa Middle School. On the east end of LMAAC is BGCEC’s existing Brady Family Teen Center. Between the two youth centers, about 200 children a day, ages 5 to 18, will attend for after-school recreational activities and learning, BGCEC officials said.

A capital campaign launched in 2012 has raised about $9.4 million, which included $3 million from La Mesa residents Ron and Mary Alice Brady, owners of the Brady Companies, a construction firm, and another $3 million from the estate of the late Eleni and Wolfgang Gagon of San Diego, who were real estate investors. Groundbreaking ceremonies for the facility were held in July 2017.

“We decided to support the Boys and Girls Clubs because it’s better to build kids than try to mend adults,” said Ron Brady, who pledged $1 million in 2012 to renovate the existing Brady Family Teen Center, plus $2 million to help build the new Brady Family Clubhouse. Brady’s La Mesa-based construction company specializes in metal stud framing, drywall installation, doors, frames, and acoustical ceilings.

“I’m very proud to hear about how smooth the construction has gone over the past year and the coordination between the many community entities has been outstanding,” Brady said. “Very soon, the construction sounds of jack hammers, buzz saws and machinery will be replaced with the joyful sounds of children’s laughter, basketballs being dribbled on the court and friendships being made. We’re so proud of the work of the Boys and Girls Clubs. They’re providing a safe environment so children can grow up to be their best and learn importance of personal responsibility and accountability for their own lives.”

The Gagon Academy was named in honor of Eleni and Wolfgang Gagon, who built a substantial real estate portfolio after investingin apartments and renovating properties in San Diego’s Golden Hill and Kensington communities in the 1970s and 1980s. A difficult childhood complicated by the pressures of World War II drove Eleni Bukuvalas and Wolfgang Gagon from their respective native countries to San Diego, where they met and were married in 1971. Wolfgang, originally from Germany, passed away at age 60 in 1997, and Eleni, originally from Greece, passed away at age 83, in 2012.

“The new clubhouse will be a catalyst to help change the entire western La Mesa area,” said La Mesa Mayor Mark Arapostathis, who also is a co-founder of LMAAC and the director of theatre arts at the school, as well as director of Peter Pan Jr. Theater and C. Hook Theater. “When the doors open on the first day, the impact on our youth will be tremendous and immediate.”

Furthering education and academics in young people was a focus for the Gagons, according to Beth LeFriant, estate trustee and family friend.

“The Gagons were immigrants, educators and lifelong learners who pledged their philanthropy to educating young children,” LeFriant said. “They both overcame extreme hardships in their lives and that’s the lessons for these children. Life doesn’t always go your way. But you can survive it with hard work and a good education.”

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