YouthBuild Louisville began construction Thursday on a $1.5 million expansion.

Executive Director Lynn Rippy said the project will expand YouthBuild’s culinary program, adding centers for fitness, jobs and counseling, as well as two classrooms. The expansion is expected to add 8,000 square feet to the Smoketown property and be completed by January 2018.

“More than 500 kids have come through the program over the last 17 years, and with the addition of the summer works program we’re impacting another several thousand kids a year,” Rippy said. “So it’s really important for us to have a space where young people feel welcome and feel happy, and they’re safe and secure.”

Courtesy YouthBuild

Rendering of YouthBuild’s expansion in Smoketown.

Donations from businesses, individuals and the Metro Government helped fund the project.

At Thursday’s groundbreaking, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer praised YouthBuild for its success, saying such programs help deter violence and make an impact.

“There’s people in the federal government, state government, local government that want to weave this narrative that ‘Oh, these soft dollars like this don’t make a difference.’ That is absolutely wrong,” Fischer said. “People don’t hesitate to invest in a police officer. We should invest in our kids as well. That’s what Youthbuild’s all about.”

Described as an education, job training and leadership program, YouthBuild offers work in construction, nursing, environmental education conservation and the culinary field. YouthBuild also provides young adults counseling and classes to earn a GED or high school diploma.

Louisville’s program is one of 273 international YouthBuild programs, which boast more than 10,000 students yearly. According to the program’s website, more than 165,000 YouthBuild students have participated and built more than 33,000 homes and community assets since 1994.

Louisville’s program started in 2000 after Marsha Weinstein and Lynn Rippy were awarded a grant from Louisville Metro Government. Their program became an official affiliate of YouthBuild in 2001.

YouthBuild Louisville was formerly housed in Jefferson Community & Technical College until moving to its current location in Smoketown in 2011.