Firehouse may help quash gangs
Last year, Matt Sweeney drove by the old west Medford fire station and realized it was the perfect location for a center to help youths stay clear of drugs, crime and gangs.
As ministry coordinator for Rogue Valley Youth for Christ, Sweeney has appealed to the City Council to allow his organization and four nonprofits to do a makeover at the station, at Eighth and Lincoln streets, and turn it into a community gathering place.
He said the location is in an area of the city with the most gang problems and with three Medford schools that have the highest number of at-risk children, Washington Elementary, Jackson Elementary and McLoughlin Middle School.
"We're right smack in the neighborhoods where those schools serve," Sweeney said, standing at Fire Station 2. "This location is the perfect place to connect with kids at high risk for drugs, alcohol and gangs."
He points to the S-curves on Columbus Avenue near Prune, a few blocks from the station, as an area with the greatest number of gang problems in Medford. In 2015, Medford Area Drug and Gang Enforcement found 315 documented gang members and associates in the county.
The council has indicated it wants to sell or lease the fire station, and on Thursday night agreed to have a meeting where presentations would be made from different organizations interested in the building. Following the presentations, the council would hold a public hearing to determine which proposal gets approved, giving notice Thursday that it wants an organization that would provide the greatest public good.
Sweeney and other local organizations, including the Jackson County Gang Prevention Task Force, have been making a pitch to the city over the past year, laying out their plans for the renovation.
Under their proposal, the engine bay would house Spartan Boxing and Youth for Christ. A storage area would be created in the back along the driveway, housing supplies for West Medford Beautification, including a grill for community barbecues.
A large carport in the rear of the building would be closed in and would be used by Familia Unida Car and Bike Club.
L.I.F.E. (Live, Inspire: Freedom of Expression) Art would move into the former living quarters for the firemen.
Sweeney said he'd like to enlarge the building slightly, including extending the engine bay and a wall to the west for a snack bar.
Bathrooms would be upgraded so they meet current disability regulations.
The combination of programs offered would help change patterns of behavior of youths subjected to abuse, neglect or trauma. Sweeney said these children have greater risk of self destructive behavior, health issues and decreased life spans.
Sweeney's rough estimate of the work to rehabilitate the building would be up to $300,000, which he would receive from donations. He estimated building a structure in the city from the ground up would cost about $800,000.
Another reason Sweeney likes the location is that it is close to bus lines and is walking distance from troubled neighborhoods.
Youth for Christ already has five locations in the valley. Sweeney said his organization would be interested in either buying or leasing the building, depending on the wishes of the council.
Sharon Rush, program director at Hearts with a Mission, said she thought a center in west Medford would help with gang prevention.
"In that particular neighborhood, it has a huge potential for that to be a hub," she said.