Young foster children could soon have a new place to call home after a project on the old Pitchford Boys Ranch property breaks ground.
The project, which aims to renovate existing buildings and construct new ones, was made possible by a $1 million grant from the Department of Human Services Child Welfare program.
The new buildings will house up to 25 children aged 6 to 12 until they can find families.
Douglas County Juvenile Department Director Aric Fromdahl said the idea is to have a full campus of services on the property, including mental health, dental and vision.
Initial plans are to have two rectangular-shaped dorm buildings intersect at a 90-degree angle.
The director has floated the idea of making a “mini Wrigley field” in the middle of the two buildings where kids can play T-ball. He also said he hopes to make the buildings energy efficient.
The Pitchford Boys Ranch first opened in 1963 as Oregon’s first residential treatment program for boys. After nearly 40 years in operation, it closed in 2001 due to lack of funding.
Fromdahl was working at the juvenile department when the ranch closed.
Over the years, he thought about the property’s potential.
Last year, Fromdahl brought assistant director Rob Salerno, who is the antithesis of Fromdahl’s “yes man” personality, to the Pitchford property.
As Fromdahl tells it, Salerno was telling him to slow down. Fromdahl was busy with both Fowler House and Creekside, two residential facilities for children in the foster care system and the Oregon Youth Authority.
After seeing the Pitchford property, Salerno’s tune changed.
“It was him who turned to me and said, ‘Dude, you’ve got to do it,’” Fromdahl said.
That started the wheels turning.
“This is our vision for the future, maybe not this year, next year, year after, but somehow we’re going to hopefully make this happen,” Fromdahl said.
It turns out they wouldn’t have to wait that long.
Nearing the last quarter of the biennium in 2017, the state’s child welfare program offered $250,000 grants per project if the applicants could increase capacity in the Behavior Rehabilitation Services system in Oregon.
The project was broken into four parts —an education center, kitchen and both of the two dorms — and the juvenile department received the grants.
Fromdahl said he’s working with people involved with the Family Development Center to help bolster the foster care system.
Hayden Consulting Engineers out of Tigard is working on the design for the project.
Engineer Darron Hayden said he has just started the design process, and there are some floodplain issues he’s trying to work on that would affect the two existing buildings on the property before he begins the design concepts in earnest.
Hayden, who went to Roseburg High School with Fromdahl, said he’s excited to be working on an area he’s familiar with.
“Everyone involved is super excited to be working on this project for kids in an underserved area,” he said.
Douglas County Commissioner Chris Boice said the project will help the juvenile department continue to work towards self-sufficiency.
Because the department was able to secure a grant from the state, very little, if any, money will come from the county, Boice said.
“The property originally was set aside for the purpose of helping troubled youth,” Boice said, “And so I think there’s sort of a historic significance.”
He expressed enthusiasm about the future prospect.
“I think it’s going to be fantastic,” Boice said.