Exterior of a former youth center in East San Jose.
The Mexican American Community Services Agency youth center, once a hub for the Mayfair community, just got a reprieve from being demolished as community leaders try to find a partner to help renovate the facility. Photo by Lorraine Gabbert.

A blighted East San Jose youth center has received a brief reprieve from the wrecking ball as community leaders work to save it.

The Alum Rock Union School District board of trustees last week voted unanimously to postpone the demolition of the former Mexican American Community Services Agency (MACSA) building for six months. This is a dramatic reversal from the December meeting where only one trustee, Board Vice President Andres Quintero, voted to save it. This will allow time for the district to search for a community partner in an effort to renovate and repurpose the building.

The board agreed to consider reallocating the $1 million demolition cost toward the renovation if a funding partner comes forward and requires financial support, Superintendent Hilaria Bauer told San José Spotlight. The building will be razed if a financial partner can’t be found by Aug. 15. 

Angel Rios, Jr., San Jose deputy city manager, said the MACSA youth center was an urban sanctuary for young people and if its walls could talk, they would tell countless stories of lives that were changed and transformed.

“I want to offer my support to this board,” he said. “We can definitely raise the money. Our children are worth it.”

San Jose Councilmember Peter Ortiz, who represents where the former youth center is located, said he’s excited to see the demolition postponed and about exploring possible uses for the building.

“The programs and resources at MACSA played a key role in the development of many Latino students served by the district, including myself,” Ortiz told San José Spotlight. “Our students still deserve access to such resources, and I hope that a repurposed building will be able to offer that. I look forward to working closely with the Alum Rock School District on a robust community visioning process that will ensure our East San Jose families are properly served by what comes next.”

Former state Assemblymember and San Jose Councilmember Manny Diaz said it’s essential the community has an opportunity to be engaged in trying to save the youth center, which provided food, education, child care, health care, sports and gang intervention for the Mayfair community.

“It’s not just about the facility,” Diaz said. “It’s about representing the community. The MACSA youth center at one time provided a lot of services for our youth, and many of our families. I’m hopeful something can be viable.”

A man stands speaking into a microphone at a podium.
Former Assemblymember and San Jose Councilmember Manny Diaz said it’s essential the community has an opportunity to be engaged in trying to save the youth center. Photo by Lorraine Gabbert.

Nora Campos, former state assemblymember and San Jose councilmember, said the community demands a seat at the table.

“Our voices are loud,” Campos said. “You’ve heard from the families. You’ve heard from the youth. You’ve heard from the city. You’ve heard from electeds. We’re willing to roll up our sleeves… and present a proposal that will allow us as a community to move forward and open the MACSA center.”

Rebeca Armendariz, Gilroy councilmember and movement building director at Working Partnerships USA, said the building was validating to her as a young Chicana.

“It symbolized to me the accomplishments and the struggles of the Chicano movement of my predecessors,” she said. “The thought of demolishing this really hurts. Thank you for voting in favor of this pause so we can work together as partners to fundraise and access the needs of this community and hopefully bring it back.”

The MACSA youth center was built with state funds. The school district leased the land to the nonprofit for 52 years for $1 per year, Bauer said, but when the property was turned over to the school district in 2016, it was in a state of disrepair. When the district received bids to renovate the building in 2017, the lowest bid was $6.9 million, more than the district could afford, she said. As construction escalated, renovation costs skyrocketed between $25 million and $30 million, she added.

The district engaged in past partnership discussions with Gardner Health Services, Goodwill of Silicon Valley and San Francisco State University to no avail.

In 2023, the district chose a 23-acre site adjacent to the MACSA youth center and Renaissance Academy at Mathson to build workforce housing. Bauer said postponing the removal of the youth center won’t affect the housing development.

Esperanza Alejandres, with SOMOS Mayfair’s Jovenes Activos, a youth program nurturing leadership and community involvement, said the needs of students and working families must be prioritized.

“Our community lacks resources,” she said. “We need a youth center where youth can come and feel safe.”

Trustee Andrea Flores Shelton said she voted in December for MACSA to be demolished because workforce housing to retain teachers is a priority and she was unaware of the community’s will to save it.

“It isn’t the district’s role alone to save the youth center. We need partners,” she said. “Now’s the time for the philanthropic community and all of our partners to answer this call to action. I’m ready for this phoenix to rise from the ashes because I think it’s in all our hearts.”

Contact Lorraine Gabbert at [email protected].

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