The proposed project would include 10 classrooms, a gym, soccer field and commercial kitchen
Teresa Thomas
Mail Tribune
Posted Feb. 5, 2016 at 5:25 PM
Kids Unlimited is in the early stages of a $4.5 million expansion of its Riverside Avenue campus that will include a gymnasium, 10 classrooms, a soccer field, a commercial kitchen and more.

Last year, the organization, which serves more than 1,500 children through after-school, mentorship and sports programs, acquired several properties behind its headquarters on Riverside Avenue. And in November, it finalized its design for a new, two-story, 30,000-square-foot, prefabricated addition behind the facility.

“Our belief is that with the expansion of this campus we can really begin to improve the livability of the surrounding neighborhood and provide more recreation for families and kids in what is the most distressed neighborhood in Medford,” said Kids Unlimited Executive Director Tom Cole.

“Best-case scenario, we would begin construction in April,” he added.

The expansion, Cole said, would not only benefit those participating in Kids Unlimited programs but also kids living in the area and those attending Kids Unlimited Academy, a public charter school that has leased the space since its inception in 2013.

The school currently serves 300 kindergarten through fifth-grade students, but it will need at least two additional classrooms when it begins serving sixth-graders next fall, Cole said.

The addition includes 10 classrooms, giving the school room to accommodate seventh- and eighth-graders in future years. One of the classrooms will be a designated art space, one a science space and one a Zen-inspired “mindfulness” space where staff can address student behavior and mental health.

The addition also will include a commercial kitchen that is five times the size of the current kitchen.

The larger kitchen, Cole said, will allow Kids Unlimited to grow its culinary arts program and serve the school’s growing capacity. The school serves breakfast, lunch and dinner to more than 300 kids five days a week.

“We imagine that by expanding our kitchen, we will not only be able to serve more meals but be a larger resource to the community by having a place that has the ability to serve food and cater events,” Cole said. “It becomes an educational opportunity and serves a basic need.”

Off the kitchen, there will be a commons area with lighting and sound technology that will function both as a cafeteria and performing arts space.

The commons area will open up into the building’s second gym. The extra gym, as well as the new multi-use field, will provide a much-needed recreational space for kids in the neighborhood and support all Kids Unlimited’s activities, Cole said.

“(Our current) gym is used seven days a week during the school day and every evening until 9 p.m.,” he said. “It’s one of the primary gather places for assemblies and (physical education) classes.”

While it’s not brick-and-mortar construction, the steel prefabricated building, designed by Brian Westerhout of Ron Grimes Architect PC, is more “economically efficient,” Cole said.

“We’re in the process of launching our capital (Building the Block) campaign and will be reaching out to community members, business partners and foundations who share our vision,” he said.

So far, Kids Unlimited has raised just over $2 million for the project, which still needs city approval.

The design will mean giving up the parking lot behind the school, demolishing three houses behind the school and excavating for the soccer/football field. Kids Unlimited is reserving one lot near the school to build a health center sometime in the near future.

“This is going to have such a drastic impact in this neighborhood and on a large group of kids and families who need these services,” Cole said. “It’s exciting but also pretty daunting.”

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