Oakland's Junior Center of Art marred by fires

One of the Bay Area's educational gems lies dormant, not for lack of funding, but for a lack of protection against fires that strike in the middle of the night.   

With restoration work still going on from last year's suspicious fire, the Oakland Junior Center of Art and Science is, once again, reeling from yet another fire. 

Clive Worsley, Executive Director, says the first fire occurred in March 2021. 

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"Started presumably by a homeless encampment that was set up, set up on the deck on that side of the building," said Worsley. "We were unoccupied due to the pandemic lock down, so it made it an attractive place for people to come and sleep." 

Located in Lake Merritt's Lakeside Park, the Junior Center of Art and Science has been cultivating curiosity and creative exploration through the arts and sciences and nature for 68 years, especially for underprivileged and underserved children; three generations worth. With a staff of eleven faculty the hands-on teaching facility holds after school classes as well as spring and summer camp experiences, almost all of it free.

It's all on hold, again due to a fire last week. 

"It appears as though it was, yet again, another homeless encampment," said Worsley. 

Homeless camps are a frequent source of fires for the Oakland Fire Department. In addition to the many people who are down on their luck, the camps have many drug addicted and mentally impaired people who really can't help themselves. 

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"We want to move forward with compassion for the individuals who are struggling with homelessness and other issues in Oakland and, at the same time we really do need to protect the children and families who come to our center for our programs," said Worsley.

If this center and sanctuary for teaching Oakland's children is to continue, property protections must be built in, so it is not a magnet sleeping and camping and fires.

"We will; we will indeed rebuild. We will be back. We'll be back better than ever," said Worsley.

 And, perhaps for three more generations of curious kids.