Christopher Rosacker
crosacker@theunion.com

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Grass Valley youth group aims to revamp Meek’s Lumber site into youth center

A Grass Valley-based youth group promoting sober activities resolves to raise at least $3 million in 2014 toward purchasing the former site of Meek’s Lumber Yard on Nevada City Highway and to revitalize the vacant property into a multifaceted youth center.

For the last half-decade since its formation, NEO, which stands for New Events and Opportunities, has worked up to hosting at least 70 events a year at approximately 25 different locations for the benefit of thousands of area youth — all in the name of providing sober opportunities.

“When I was in high school, I would choose to not go to parties or not do drugs and would have nowhere to hang out,” said Halli Ellis, 24, cofounder of NEO, at a Dec. 10 meeting of the Grass Valley City Council.

“So I was constantly just hanging out in parking lots. And I would get in trouble for loitering,” Ellis said.

“So I felt like I was doing something wrong by making that healthy choice. And still today, people have nowhere healthy to socialize and hang out besides maybe some coffee shops.”

After four years of being housed under the Coalition for a Drug-Free Nevada County, NEO has outgrown its facilities, and its founders aim to transform the old Meek’s building into a safe, supervised space for teenagers after school and on weekends, said cofounder Lynn Skrukrud at the council meeting.

“We feel we are in a unique position as an organization,” Skrukrud said about opening a new youth center.

“Because we have had five years of experience hosting events, we have a following and a reputation among local youth, and everything we do is for youth and by youth.”

Built in 1935 by Meek’s, the property has been vacant for approximately four years since the company closed its operations there. The property consists of a commercially zoned, 6.14-acre, fully paved and fenced parcel with two primary buildings and several outbuildings, according to the real estate listing site Zillow.com, which lists a $3,349,000 asking price.

“Last I heard, they were asking $4 million for that piece of property,” said Councilwoman Lisa Swarthout.

As envisioned by NEO, a youth center at the Meek’s site would feature an after-school program for 12- to 19-year-olds to get homework help, tutoring, the use of a computer lab and to play games and create arts and crafts, Skrukrud said.

It would also house weekend events, Ellis added, such as dances and music, theater or comedy performances.

“We would also include an outdoor space, with the hope of eventually building an on-site bike and skateboard park,” Skrukrud said, noting there would also ideally be a sports field, a mountain bike track and an organic garden to contribute toward an on-site cafe.

“This site would be perfect. It would fit everything in there,” Ellis said of the Meek’s property.

“The bike park, the indoor gym, the main youth center … It can house all the different nonprofits; we are all under the same roof. There are a lot of things we want to do, but this land is actually big enough to house all of that.”

NEO’s cofounders acknowledged that they have not made a proposal to Meek’s Lumber Company, nor have they sat down with city planners to discuss approval of such a complex.

“You might think we are crazy for proposing all this, and it seems like a lot, or that this is a great dream, but we want to make this a reality,” Ellis said.

The pair has a three-phase plan, which projects financial sustainability after five years based on profits from leasing space, revenues from the cafe and a thrift store and proceeds from events. However, the first and most expensive phase requires at least $3.2 million.

“While we have a lot to raise to start, we think we can make it really sustainable in the long run,” Skrukrud said, noting they have already begun work on sponsorships and fundraising and are seeking out revenue sources.

While they have their eyes on 2014, Skrukrud and Ellis accomplished a lot in 2013, they said. They garnered 501(c)3 nonprofit status in March and filed for tax exemption status in early December, around the same time they moved into a new location. The pair also completed a 53-page business plan, which is focused around the establishment of the youth center.

“If some of our adult organizations can be as organized as you guys are, our community will thrive twice as well as it is,” said Councilman Jason Fouyer. “Thank you for being a part of our community and contributing back to our community.”

Phone calls to Meek’s Lumber Company representatives for comment Thursday and Friday were not returned.

“I think before you get too far down the road of what you want to do, it’s probably time to sit down and have a conversation. I’m happy to be a part of that, about how the city can be a part of making that happen,” Swarthout said, adding later that,

“We haven’t had anyone bring in a good proposal for that building yet. This might be the whole thing.”

To contact Staff Writer Christopher Rosacker, email crosacker@theunion.com or call 530-477-4236.


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The Union Updated Jan 2, 2014 11:12AM Published Jan 17, 2014 12:22PM Copyright 2014 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.