Volunteers set to break ground on future Detroit community center

Wildfires

It's been 7 months since wildfires destroyed most of Detroit. Now, the city is starting to rebuild.

Digital rendering shows what the new Detroit Community Center will look like after crews renovate the old high school gymnasium. Courtesy Santiam Rebuild Coalition

LYONS, Ore. (KOIN) — The community of Detroit will begin its journey of rising from the ashes Saturday as volunteer construction crews break ground on a new community center. 

The Santiam Rebuild Coalition, a group of licensed and insured construction industry members, is leading the effort to transform the old high school gymnasium into a place the community can gather and plan for its future. 

“We need something to start as an anchor and so, a community center is just the focal point,” said Rich Duncan, owner of Rich Duncan Construction and co-founder of the Santiam Rebuild Coalition. “It can be used, you know, for meeting places. It can be used by the city and the residents can use it to meet and turn in plans or get information.”

Duncan helped design the building and secure the property for the community center. The community center will have meeting rooms, storage areas, and space to keep vehicles. 

Photo shows what the old Detroit High School gymnasium looks like before it’s renovated into the new community center. Courtesy Rich Duncan

The gymnasium is what remains after the old Detroit High School building was demolished in 2011. Now, it’s one of only a handful of buildings still standing after the Beachie Creek and Lion’s Head fires merged at the town in September 2020. 

The property was donated to the Detroit Lake Foundation, a non-profit that’s collecting funds to support rebuilding efforts in the city. A significant portion of the money needed to remodel the building is coming from a $250,000 grant the foundation received on March 9 from the Mid-Willamette United Way.  

Duncan said the plan started with a group of seven contractors and now more than 100 have committed to help build and provide supplies needed to make the vision a reality. In fall 2020, many of these contractors gathered at Sprague High School and signed their names on pieces of plywood that will be used in the building’s construction. 

“We just thought it was symbolic to, you know, put their name on some plywood that they’re going to commit to the project,” Duncan said. 

He said he and his family have recreated in the Santiam Canyon for years. It pains him to see the small town of Detroit suffering and he wants to help put it back on the map. 

Detroit Mayor Jim Trett is also looking forward to the new community center. He said the groundbreaking is taking place at the same time other exciting developments are happening in the city. He said he’s hoping the city will have access to potable water again by the end of March and that city staff are beginning to receive building permits from people who intend to rebuild their homes after the fire.  

“Detroit and the canyon are gonna look different this year, but it’s still a pretty place,” Trett said. “It’s still gonna be a good place to come visit and spend family time.” 

Duncan said right now, it might be hard to envision what Detroit could look like in the future, but he hopes this community center will serve as an anchor and a starting point. 

He’d like to see the community center completed by Labor Day 2021, the one-year anniversary of when the fires ignited the town. 

The community is invited to attend the groundbreaking ceremony Saturday starting at 9:45 a.m. at 345 Santiam Ave., Detroit.

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