OAKLAND, Calif. (KRON) – Just weeks before they were set to reopen after more than a year because of the pandemic, a longtime Oakland institution will now have to be rebuilt after a weekend fire destroyed most of the building. 

On Sunday night, flames heavily damaged the Junior Center of Arts and Science at Lake Merritt. 

On Tuesday night, the group that has helped many over its 65-year history now needs to help themselves as they look to recover. 

Since 1954, the Junior Center of Arts and Science has been providing valuable resources to the Oakland community. 

Just weeks before they were set to reopen from the COVID pandemic, a weekend fire destroyed much of their building. 

“It’s been a really tough pill to swallow… we have been so eager to see our families in person again,” executive director Dominique Enriquez said. 

For nearly 70-years, the Junior Center of Arts and Science in Oakland has been a home away from home. 

Sunday night, the refuge that has provided a space to learn, along with resources went up in flames. 

“There is considerable damage to at least three of the learning spaces, the entire entry ways, some of the offices and the entire entryway,” Enriquez said.  

Oakland Fire says the blaze likely started at a nearby homeless encampment, and then quickly spread. 

The fast moving flames that destroyed most of the building have also burned hope of re-opening the center, that’s been closed since last April due to COVID. 

“We were this close to returning to in-person programming, so we’ve been in the middle of preparation and planning and to go back in-person,” Enriquez said.  

Through hands-on arts and science classes, camps, family playdates and more, the center serves more than 8,500 young people and their families each year.

Enriquez says even during the pandemic, they provided programs virtually. 

Now, they’re looking forward to walking back through the doors that they call home. 

“We’re still trying to wrap our minds around what happened, but I’m looking forward to how to continue our programs in the future,” Enriquez said. 

Organizers say this will not be the end of the center, or the programs.

They say they are in need of three things to get them back up and running:

  • Money
  • Volunteers to help clean up the damage
  • Someone willing to provide them a temporary space, so they can continue with providing resources and events until they’re able to get back on their feet