Variety Boys & Girls Club & Magnolia Gardens Awarded $1M by NYSERDA

Governor Kathy Hochul announced a round of New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) buildings awards this month, two of which were given to Queens-based projects.

$13.5 million was awarded to 14 projects throughout New York State through the third round of the more than $48 million Buildings of Excellence Competition. These awards recognize the design, construction and operation of clean, resilient and low-carbon or carbon neutral multifamily buildings.

The Variety Boys & Girls Club of Queens (VBGCQ), located on 21 Street and 30th Road in Astoria, has received a NYSERDA Buildings Award of Excellence and a $1 million prize for its $225 million expansion project.

Rendering of the expanded Boys & Girls Club of Queens. Groundbreaking is set for 2024, with notable features of the building including a planetarium and a pool.

The project includes more than 200 units of affordable housing and an 110,000 square foot club expansion, which includes two swimming pools, a planetarium, a 1,000 seat multi purpose sports arena, a theatre, STEM Lab, Teaching Kitchen and education space.

“A non-profit and business incubator/lab and club operated retail space on 21st street is also part of the plan,” according to Costa Constantinides, CEO of VBGCQ.

MEGA Development Corp. is the developer partner while Ettinger Engineering Associates is the lead engineering firm on the project. ICL is the housing development partner.

According to Constantinides, the list of firms partnering with the Boys & Girls Club in the development project is growing.

“The investment in our children by the corporate community is impressive. These companies are investing in our capital project as well as funding programming for the 16,000 children we will serve each year for the next half-century,” he said.

GrubHub is investing $1.25 million for the Teaching Kitchen. Hydro- Quebec is investing $1.25 million for the Renewable Energy Learning Lab. Attentive One is investing $1.5 million for the Teen Academy and Equinor Beacon Wind Technology is investing $1.75 million to build as well as help operate and support the Media Center.

“It’s an extraordinary project that will revolutionize learning in Astoria and Long Island City,” continued Walter Sanchez, president of the Board of Directors at Variety.

Representatives from Variety Boys & Girls Club of Queens, MEGA Contracting, Ettinger Engineering Associates and ICL receive buildings award at NYSERDA event on March 21 in at the American Institute of Architects Building in Manhattan. A $1 million Grant was awarded to the development for meeting the highest standards of developing to carbon neutral standards.

NYSERDA pointed out that the awardees not only offer affordable housing but also are all-electric and carbon neutral at their core — with no use of fossil fuel combustion in daily use — making them highly efficient.

“We are also including solar energy with the caveat of having a hands-on educational component for the children we serve, to be able to learn about how our geo-thermal energy source works,” said Sanchez. Groundbreaking is planned for spring of 2024.

An award with a $1 million Grant was given to Flushing-based Magnolia Gardens. A first-of-its-kind for New York City, Magnolia Gardens plans to offer 90 modern apartments of transitional housing and offer Asian language services for families in the development, which is intended for families with at least one child under the age of 21.

Families will stay there for a year before moving to permanent affordable housing. Magnolia Gardens is at 133-04 39th Avenue in Flushing and is developed by Asian Americans for Equality and Urban Resource Institute. Groundbreaking was set for the fall of 2022, but has been postponed for environmental remediation and other requirements. The public will be notified of the groundbreaking when a date has been confirmed.

NYSERDA pointed out that the competition supports the State’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 85 percent by 2050 and ensure at least 35 percent, with a goal of 40 percent, of the benefits of clean energy investments are directed toward disadvantaged communities.

Rendering by Urban Architectural Initiatives

The awards event took place at the AIA Building in downtown Manhattan on Tuesday, March 21. “We congratulate today’s winners” said NYSERDA CEO Doreen M. Harris at the event, “and are particularly proud of their commitment to advancing low-carbon building design that sets a new standard for climate-friendly construction and operation. These awardees join a group of thought- leaders that are paving the way to tackle one of the highest greenhouse gas emitting sectors in the state by demonstrating that building with a low carbon footprint is profitable and in-demand.”

Funding for this program is through the State Clean Energy Fund and is part of NYSERDA’s more than $165 million investment in new construction and gut rehab projects in the multi-family building sector.

Pol Position: Council Members ‘Punished’ for voting against the budget

The New York City Council passed the $101 billion spending plan on June 10, following the nearly unanimous decision by its membership, which voted 44-6 in favor of the budget.

But, according to City & State, six of the members who voted against it were treated with a nasty surprise.

The six ‘nay’-saying members—Tiffany Cabán, Sandy Nurse, Alexa Avilés, Chi Ossé, Charles Barron, and Kristin Richardson Jordan—were not credited for projects they supported and received on average less for organizations they supported than the members who voted yes.

The Council Members who voted against the proposed spending plan were initially surprised that they had been left out of the $41.6 million discretionary funds, known as the “Speaker’s Initiative to Address Citywide Needs,” allowing them to allocate additional funding towards specific projects and causes.

However, it was later revealed that several of the council members did in fact receive money from the discretionary fund for their projects, but their names were simply not listed on the budget document next to projects they supported.

Based on initial reports, Cabán said that she planned to designate $150,000 in funding for the Variety Boys and Girls Club, which provides after-school programming for approximately 4,000 children in Western Queens. However, it appeared they would no longer receive it.

Rep. Ocasio-Cortez responded on Twitter, calling the potential cut in discretionary funding “punishment” for Council Members opposed to the budget because of cuts in education, while increasing spending on police and incarceration.

Ocasio-Cortez tweeted: “To punish a council member for objecting to cuts in education and housing, NYC leaders are defunding a local Boys & Girls Club as ‘punishment.’”

Speaker Adrienne Adams replied, telling Politico that the allocation loss for the Variety Boys & Girls Club was an “oversight” that would be rectified.

Costa Constantinides, former City Council Member and chief executive of Variety Boys & Girls Club in Queens, later told The New York Times that while he had hoped that his organization would receive $150,000 from the budget, he was confident that Adams would sort out the issue.

“That would have been a really harsh cut if that were to stand,” Constantinides said. “I think we are all working together to find a great resolution.”

In the interim, thanks in part to Ocasio-Cortez’s efforts to help restore funding to the program, the Variety Boys and Girls Club continues its efforts to raise money to help serve the children in Queens.

Constantinides appointed to EDC board of directors

Former City Council member Costa Constantinides is the newest member of the Board of Directors of the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC), following his nomination by Borough President Donovan Richards.
The Astoria native brings more than a decade of experience working across government, education and nonprofit sectors, while continuing to be a friendly face at the Variety Boys and Girls Club of Queens, serving as chief executive officer.
“As our city recovers from the pandemic, fights for a more just and fair economy, battles the effects of climate change and strives to become more sustainable, EDC is a critical agency in achieving a stronger city,” said Constantinides.
During his time in office, Constantinides spearheaded the effort to pass the Climate Mobilization Act, first-of-its kind legislation that pledges the city to be carbon neutral by 2050.
Constantinides will succeed Melva Miller, who will continue her work as the CEO for the Association for a Better New York. In March, Constantinides stepped down from his City Council position to take on the role as CEO of the Variety Boys and Girls Club.
“Costa Constantinides is a real King of Queens, always ensuring Queens has gotten our fair share throughout his career,” said Richards. “Costa’s track record clearly shows his devotion to Queens’ economic growth and success, which will continue as long as Costa has a seat at the table.”
Constantinides attended the Astoria schools of P.S. 84 and P.S.122 before graduating from William Cullen Bryant High School. He attended Queens College where he now teaches as an adjunct lecturer in both the Political Science and Urban Studies departments.
In 2010, he received his Juris Doctor from Benjamin Cardozo School of Law and was admitted to the bar in 2014.
“We are delighted to have Costa Constantinides join the NYCEDC Board representing Queens as we move forward helping build a recovery for all New Yorkers,” said NYCEDC president and CEO Rachel Loeb. “His role as CEO of the Variety Boys & Girls Club of Queens brings a unique perspective, helping us consider the needs of youth in our neighborhoods as we look for equitable solutions for all New Yorkers.”

Charles Melone, Variety Boys & Girls Club

Charles Melone, better known as “Coach CP,” describes basketball as his one true love.
He takes his passion for the sport with him to work every day as the athletics director at the Variety Boys and Girls Club of Queens in Astoria. Melone oversees all things sports, as well as runs all of the sports teams.
The Variety Boys and Girls Club of Queens has a nationally recognized AAU basketball program, which Melone founded before he started working there seven years ago.
“We take underprivileged kids from this area, especially from Queensbridge, Ravenswood, Woodside, and Astoria [houses],” Melone said. “It’s a lot of amazing kids that just weren’t given an opportunity, and so with our basketball program we give them that opportunity to play against the best kids in the country.”
Melone attended Caldwell University on a basketball scholarship, and realized he wanted to stay in the game when his own basketball career came to an end.
“At a young age, my father always really nailed home that you have to give back if you have an opportunity to,” he said. “And so I figured what better way to give back than to find a common interest, which is sports and basketball that I love. That way, I could work with kids and continue to pay it forward and make sure that not only am I happy in my own life, but I’m helping other kids achieve their dreams.”
As for what he does in his free time, Melone said there isn’t much free time.
“Even on the weekends we’re traveling to tournaments, we have training sessions, and we have college exposure things,” he said. “So I’m always kind of working, but it doesn’t feel like work and I love it.”
One thing Melone is excited about is that the Variety Boys and Girls Club of Queens will have its first baseball team since the ‘60s starting this year.
“The gym is always packed, the kids just want to be here,” he said. “I hope to be in this community for a long time, and I’m very grateful to the Variety Boys and Girls Club for giving me this opportunity. I hope I continue to make them and the community proud.”

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