The Westley Community Center was destroyed by fire over the weekend, leaving local youngsters, at least temporarily, without a place to go after school.
The Patterson and Westley fire departments responded to calls around 8 p.m. Saturday and got the fire under control by about 10 p.m., though significant damage had been done.
Nearly five hours later, firefighters returned after someone reported seeing smoke at the building.
“We had it under control and out,” said Steve Hall, Patterson fire division chief. “We got called back out for a smoke check, and the attic was involved.”
The second fire was not extinguished until 7 a.m. Sunday, and by then, most of the roof was gone and the building was totaled.
“The second fire did it in,” Hall said.
Hall said the fire started in the main room of the roughly 4,000-square-foot building on Livingston Circle but did not disclose whether arson was suspected, because the fire is still under investigation. Hall could not yet estimate the damage’s cost.
Since 1991, the community center had been used by the Stanislaus County Police Activities League, mostly for its after-school program.
According to Executive Director Alfredo Guerra, the PAL would also use the building in conjunction with the county Housing Authority to help local adults fill out forms for housing and to give them other assistance. It was one of three such locations in the county, along with the community centers in Patterson and Oakdale.
The county also used the center for summer day care and meal programs, and it was often used as a gathering place for neighborhood watch meetings and other community events.
But the after-school program was the building’s main draw. Guerra said that from 1 to 6 p.m. every weekday, the PAL would offer tutoring, recreational activities and arts and crafts for local students of all ages. There was also a lab with three computers.
According to the PAL’s Web site, the goal of the program is to reduce juvenile crime in migrant and low-income housing communities.
“It’s definitely going to have a (big) impact on us and the program and the kids,” Guerra said. “It was definitely a good resource place for the community.”
The after-school program had been closed for the past two weeks for winter break, and it was scheduled to resume activities Monday. Instead, Guerra and the Housing Authority were left looking for a new location.
Guerra said it’s likely the program will temporarily move to some nearby units used during the summer to house migrant farmworkers. He said that move could be made as early as next week, though yet another spot will need to be found when those buildings are again in use.
Regardless, Guerra said the fire caused a major loss for the community.
“For teenagers in this area, this was the place for them,” he said.