Salvation Army looks to reap benefits from Liberty Park site

Passers-by on Beatty Street may see an aging church, an empty grass lot and an abandoned house, but The Salvation Army sees an opportunity for a community center, playground and neighborhood vegetable garden.

As the army begins to turn that vision into a reality, it will host a barbecue today at its Liberty Park location at 304 Beatty St.

The proposed future garden, along with a playground and recreation area for children, and an industrial kitchen for serving free meals, are all part of a series of projects to rebuild and refurbish the army's property in the Liberty Park neighborhood.

Church and kitchen refurbishments will be partially funded by a $100,000 Medford urban renewal grant, while remaining funds and funds for the garden and playground will come from private donors and the army's own reserves. Preliminary stages of the projects are slated to begin in three weeks and be completed by next spring.

The Liberty Park neighborhood also is known as the Beatty-Manzanita area — named for streets that bisect it — and for decades it has been one of the city's poverty pockets. But the Salvation Army says it sees a comeback in the works for the neighborhood and its efforts will contribute to that positive move.

Salvation Army organizers say they hope Saturday's barbecue will allow people to come forward with suggestions and ideas about the new project. The barbecue will be from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Hamburgers, hot dogs, ice cream, and soft drinks will be offered, along with face-painting and other children's activities.

Salvation Army spokeswoman Jackie Agee said the barbecue, the garden and the playground were part of a three-step project to get the neighbors to come together and to get to know one another. Agee said she hoped that the church will double as a community center that assists in the neighborhood's renewal.

"We want the church to become a resource for the community to use. This park is without any kind of community neighborhood center," Agee said, "We're really trying to build a community here ... and we're trying to do that with this barbecue."

Much of the Salvation Army's church on Beatty has begun to show its age. Agee said the roof needs replacing and the building needs to be retrofitted to withstand earthquakes and is in need of a wheelchair ramp.

Medford Citadel Commanding Officer Capt. Martin Cooper said that when he took command of the regional Salvation Army about a year ago, he recognized that some of its facilities needed upgrades.

"I got here and one of the first things I noticed is that things have been showing their age," Cooper said.

During a tour of the chapel on Thursday, Cooper said the building, originally built for use by Seventh-day Adventists, had seen little renovation since being built in the 1920s. Old plumbing caused flooding in 2007 and damaged the kitchen beyond use. Outside of church services, the building is now being used mostly for storage.

When it finishes renovations, the army would like to be able to provide free meals from that kitchen once or twice a week. And that's just the inside — outside the vegetable garden and playground will also soon be works in progress.

Cooper said that the army hopes to receive donations of fencing, lumber and seeds for the garden project. The garden would cover approximately 12,000 square feet.

The army also hopes to install playground equipment on a grass field adjacent to the future garden area and already used for informal kids' soccer matches. They're also looking for playground equipment donations for the playground project.

Peering out across the site that will eventually become the vegetable garden, Cooper pointed out houses in the neighborhood that are also being refurbished. He said there are numerous repair projects evident despite the poor economy and that the neighborhood is experiencing rehabilitation.

"Our whole goal is to be a positive part of that process for people," Cooper said.

Although the church renovation will begin in three weeks, the garden and playground plans may be delayed until funding and equipment issues are resolved.

Agee said she's confident, however, that the projects can be finished by the spring with enough donations and official approvals.

Mat Wolf is a reporting intern. Reach him at 541-776-4481 or by email at mwolf@mailtribune.com.

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