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First step

Demolition crews got to work Wednesday leveling six residences on three properties behind Kids Unlimited's Riverside campus.

The work clears the way for the organization's $4.5 million expansion project that includes a new, two-story, 30,000-square-foot, prefabricated addition behind the facility, as well as a soccer field and track. 

Since last spring, the school has purchased five neighboring tax lots on Edwards Street for a total of $730,000. Volunteers and community members already have cleared one of the lots — which did not have a structure, only a purple Cadillac perched on cinder blocks — and Batzer Construction crews began work on three of the other properties Tuesday and plan to have them leveled and cleaned up by early next week.

The homes being knocked down have earned notoriety with police, who have responded to 114 calls to those addresses since 2012. Those calls vary from noise complaints and ordinance violations to trespassing and a shooting, Medford police Lt. Mike Budreau said.

“I’m sure the officer working that area is like, ‘Oh, thank goodness,’ ” Budreau said.

One of the homes was littered with various drug paraphernalia, including needles and syringes, said Kids Unlimited Executive Director Tom Cole, and one has been broken into more than six times just since November.

In fact, early Wednesday morning, three adults, who had been squatting in one of the homes for the past three days, were asked to leave so crews could begin demolition.

“This doesn’t cure all the blighted properties, just those three properties,” Cole said. “There’s been so much activity from a stick-up a week ago to multiple drug raids, gang violence and a drive-by shooting. This demolition is a very big step to laying the foundation of a Promise Neighborhood.”

The Promise Neighborhood program is a U.S. Department of Education initiative to provide wraparound support and services in the hopes of improving educational outcomes for children living in distressed urban communities.

Cole said all the properties were owned by absentee landlords who were more than willing to sell.

One of those landlords, Bill Stults Jr., sold his duplex at 504 Edwards St. to Kids Unlimited last December, shortly after the front home was targeted in a drive-by shooting on Sept. 9.

A Kids Unlimited volunteer approached Stults last summer about selling the property, but it wasn’t until after a tour of Kids Unlimited Academy, which has leased the space since 2011, that Stults decided to sell.

Stults, who owns 20 units in the Medford area, said the duplex on Edwards Street was a hassle and had housed a number of bad tenants over the years.

After talking to Cole, meeting KUA students and hearing their stories, Stults was enthusiastic about selling.

“Within an hour’s time, I went from, ‘I’m not selling the property because it’s my retirement’ to ‘Oh my gosh, you guys are doing something incredible here; I’ll sell you my property,’ ” he said.

The timing was perfect because one tenant already had vacated one of the residences and the other needed a larger place and moved into one of his other units.

After it’s leveled, the property will serve as a staging ground for the installation of the new addition, which will include 10 classrooms, a commercial kitchen, a commons area and a second gym, but later will be the location of a soccer field and track.

“A soccer field will provide an opportunity for us to provide more opportunities for kids who want to play the sport and a recreational outlet for kids, both low-income and Latino, who are underserved in organized sports,” Cole said.

Reach education reporter Teresa Thomas at 541-776-4497 or tthomas@mailtribune.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/teresathomas_mt.

Kids Unlimited begins the demolition of properties surrounding the campus Wednesday to make room for expansion. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch