The Good Neighbor Center is adding more space for children's programming.

COURTESY OF THE HOME BUILDERS FOUNDATION - The multipurpose room at the Good Neighbor Center in Tigard is used for both storage and children's education programs.Space is tight at the Good Neighbor Center. In addition to housing up to nine homeless families for weeks at a time, the center has its space taken up with supplies, donations, staff offices — and an after-school and summer educational program for children from transient and low-income families.

But an expansion planned for this spring, which had its ceremonial groundbreaking Wednesday, will give kids more room to learn and play.

"It's wonderful," said Jack Schwab, the center's executive director. "This will be a classroom, a small office for the children's program, and tons of cabinets for storage of everything from winter coats to school supplies."

The project is sponsored by the Home Builders Foundation, a charity associated with the Home Builders Association of Metropolitan Portland that focuses on building shelter spaces for the homeless. The general contractor is Mountainwood Homes.

Project manager Brenda Ketah said the Home Builders Foundation has been involved with some smaller-scale improvements at the Good Neighbor Center in the past, like landscaping and painting.

"They were considering doing a small expansion, and so we talked to them about what their plans were and we decided that would be a great project for us," Ketah said.

Schwab described the project as "a dream that has finally come true."

"This will really allow us to focus on the kids in the shelter," he said.

The multipurpose room that now houses the Good Neighbor Center's programs for children is shared between donations to the center — toilet paper, Schwab said, is an essential but especially bulky item — and other storage and staff space as well.

"Their idea was to bump out those walls so they're able to expand that program," Ketah said.

The expansion will add 375 square feet of indoor space to the center, Ketah and Schwab said — more than doubling the size of that multipurpose room.

"It's really going to open up that space," said Ketah.

The total project cost is about $110,000, according to Ketah, but she said Mountainwood Homes' owner, Robert Wood, is donating his own time and the company will work with its subcontractors and suppliers to get discounted rates and donations to bring the cost down further.

Providing a space for the homeless to live is about more than simply ensuring a roof over their heads.

"Essentially, this is a family homeless shelter," Schwab said. "It's a short-term shelter, but people stay here typically about six weeks, and while we're here, we try to provide them with some services."

That includes providing children with some supplementary learning after school and during the summer.

"Homeless kids are typically way behind in school," Schwab remarked. "They may not be going regularly. They may have changed schools a lot."

The expansion will give that program a dedicated space and provide the center with more much-needed storage space.

City approval for permits is expected soon, Schwab said. Ketah is shooting for completion in June, in time for summer break, when the center hosts its summer school program.

Schwab is planning to retire from his job at the Good Neighbor Center at the end of June. He said he has made it clear he wants to see the expansion through before he leaves.

"I am very excited to be able to have this finished by the time I hand the keys off to someone else," he said.

By Mark Miller
Assistant Editor, The Times
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