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$2.3 million study center to open in northeast Boca

$2.3 million study center to open in northeast Boca

By Kathy Bushouse
Staff Writer

January 11, 2002

BOCA RATON + A gaggle of Boca Raton High School art students stand on ladders, painting a mural over the doorway to the gymnasium of the new Wayne Barton Study Center.

The painting depicts the $2.3 million study center perched atop a globe, braced by children of all races and ethnic backgrounds.

Wayne Barton stands back, eyes their work and smiles.

The still-to-be-named painting, he explained, is the embodiment of what he wants this new center to be, not just an after-school hangout for middle- and high-school students in Boca Raton's poorest neighborhood, the Dixie Manor public housing project, where the study center got its start.

Not a place where only black children come together, or only white or Hispanic children congregate.

"I want them to really get that unity feeling, that all kids come here," Barton said.

On Saturday, the 25,000-square-foot center on Northeast 14th Street will officially open and be christened with a ribbon-cutting and celebration dinner.

Students already have used the center's spacious, well-lit library and four classrooms, and have been through orientation to learn how to use the keyless entry system and identification cards that will serve as their passes into the center, Barton said.

Barton, a former Boca Raton police officer who worked in Dixie Manor, started the center in 1995, with the help of a nonprofit group called Barton's Boosters that raised money to give financial support to the center.

The new building is a palace compared with the three-bedroom, 600-square-foot apartment that once housed the center, Barton said.

The center now has a gymnasium with a weight room staffed by a personal trainer. There's a stage for plays and other performances. A computer room is outfitted with 25 computers donated by IBM featuring high-speed Internet access courtesy of BellSouth. In another room, a pool table and video game machines from Barton's garage should be a big hit. And, there are bathrooms with showers.

The center also has a high-tech security system with 49 cameras stationed in all corners of the building. The center's staff can keep watch on three computer screens stationed at the front desk.

By just moving a few blocks away from Dixie Manor, Barton said he thinks he can attract a much wider audience.

"You had to start somewhere, and we started there," Barton said of the old Dixie Manor center, on Dixie Highway just north of Glades Road. "And I thank God we're where we're at today. From here, we'll see where it goes."

Many of the programs already at the study center will carry over, such as college bus tours and homework help, Barton said. But he wants the new center to become more than a place to do homework.

The center will have doctors who will volunteer their time to give physicals to people without medical insurance. The center will serve dinners to the young people who are members there, as well as have counselors to talk to the young people about their problems.

"It does more than just after-school care," Barton said. "It's more like a multipurpose facility."

Where the old center was able to serve about 25 students at a time, the new place should be able to handle anywhere from 600 to 1,000, Barton said.

"I think we're going to outgrow this place quickly," he said.

One avid supporter, former Boca Raton Mayor Bill Smith, said he's in awe of Barton's work.

"I just don't have enough praise for Wayne Barton. It's because of people like him that this community is the outstanding community that it is," Smith said. "He's made a statement, and I can't imagine that anyone who passes through those doors, their life isn't going to be enhanced."

A room at the center will be named for Smith's son, William "Trip" Smith III. Trip Smith was killed in 1992 after he was hit by a Jeep while crossing Federal Highway.

Trip Smith was on his way that day to see Wayne Barton.

"I know my son is looking down on this, and he's just so thrilled that other kids will be able to use this," Smith said.

Kathy Bushouse can be reached at kbushouse@sun-sentinel.com or 561-243-6641.

Copyright © 2002, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Copyright © 2001, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

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