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.

One East San Jose school district is ready to move forward on much needed workforce housing and will remove a past icon in the process.

Alum Rock Union School District plans to construct 78 homes on three acres of a 23-acre site at a cost of $60 million, after voters agreed to change the language in an existing bond measure in November 2022. The approval allows the district to use $71.5 million to build affordable housing for teachers and other employees. Adjacent to the site sits the former Mexican American Community Services Agency (MACSA), which has been vacant for more than 10 years. The district has slated it for demolition, but advocates are trying to save the approximately 30,000-square-foot building.

Former California Assemblymember and San Jose Councilmember Manny Diaz, who worked as a development manager for MACSA in the 1990s, said its youth center was “the jewel in the crown” back then, providing services and programs to an underserved community. The agency leased the land from the district from 1991 through 2011, said Hilaria Bauer, superintendent for Alum Rock Union School District.

Bauer said the youth center was a beacon in its heyday. The center included classrooms, a gymnasium, track and fields. It provided education, socializing and sports for the Mayfair community, but around 2014 when it reverted back to the school district it became a liability and fell into disrepair.

“The cost of repairs to the district was approximately $9 million,” Bauer told San José Spotlight. “This was roughly 7% of the total district budget at the time. The amount needed for roof repairs was very significant at a time when the district was experiencing significant financial stress.”

Bauer said the building costs the district about $10,000 per month to clean its surroundings, for a total of $1.2 million during the past decade. She said vandalism and copper wire theft during the pandemic exacerbated its demise. It would cost at least $30 million to renovate the building, she said.

The district has searched for community partners since 2014 to help fund renovations, but to no avail.

“The demolition of this building has been a very difficult decision for the board, but we have received multiple complaints from the neighbors,” Bauer said.

Alum Rock Union School District plans to develop workforce housing on three of about 23 acres adjacent to the former MACSA Youth Center. Photo by Lorraine Gabbert.

Diaz said although the center is school district property, he wants the community to weigh in before it’s demolished. He talked to Mission Neighborhood Centers, which offers child care, youth and senior services, about taking over MACSA when he learned the school district chose the neighboring site for development.

“That youth center provided a tremendous amount of services and was in a good location,” Diaz told San José Spotlight. “Everything was done very quickly by the school district. There was a lack of transparency and accountability. When I testified at the board meeting last month asking them to delay… they didn’t want to hear that. They said it was already decided.”

Bauer previously told San José Spotlight that Alum Rock Union School District is struggling to recruit beginning teachers and other employees because of high housing costs, and the district was exploring a bond measure as a way to build and subsidize teacher housing.

In December 2021, the school board approved the formation of a workforce housing task force, which included parents, community members, administrators and board members. The task force surveyed district employees and residents, and proposed several sites to the board in June 2022, which selected a 23-acre site adjacent to the youth center and Renaissance Academy at Mathson location.

Andres Quintero, school board vice president, cast the dissenting vote against tearing down the former youth center at the district’s board meeting last month.

“I’m highly open to engaging with the community to look at options. I’m open to having a dialogue,” he told San José Spotlight. “I don’t see the need to tear down the building. If there is a willing partner… I’ll call for the brakes to be placed on this project and hopefully my colleagues will come on board.”

Quintero engaged in conversations with Goodwill of Silicon Valley to renovate the building and use it for job training to provide resources for the community. There were also talks with Gardner Health Services, but neither panned out. 

“I’m still holding out hope we can find partners, maybe the state or county wants to partner with us,” Quintero said, adding there’s plenty of space for the youth center to remain along with workforce housing. “If there’s somebody out there with the resources, speak out now so we can get things moving.”

Victor Vasquez and Saul Ramos, co-executive directors of SOMOS Mayfair, said the needs of students, youth and families should be prioritized, especially those who are working class Latinos, and are affected by the lack of housing stock and resources. They said the former youth center is an opportunity to work together to provide these critical needs.

“It’s really a tragedy there wasn’t an opportunity for the community to engage to see if something could be done to save the MACSA Youth Center,” Diaz said. “At least have that process, that discussion to see what’s possible.”

Contact Lorraine Gabbert at: [email protected].

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