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WASH Project’s community programs spin off into temporary new site

The West Side Value Laundromat had a lot more going on than suds and duds.

For more than three years, the WASH Project doubled as an experimental arts space and ad hoc community center for young Burmese immigrants and others to surf the internet, take English classes, shoot pool and attend open mic nights.

But with the building’s repair needs becoming too great, the WASH Project – sans the washers and dryers – moved last week from its Massachusetts Avenue location to a temporary corner location at 593 Grant St.

That pleased WASH Project users like Keri Bradley.

“We moved from Chicago here because of community, and what we were looking for was exactly what Buffalo has,” said Bradley, the mother of three young children. “The WASH Project become part of our community, and our home.”

Bradley, who lives one block from the new location, said she and her husband, Eric Bataller, used to load up their van with kids from the neighborhood to take them there.

“We love so many of the programs, like the global book hour and the book arts classes,” Bradley said.

The WASH Project – which stands for Westside Art Strategy Happenings – is coordinated by Barrett Gordon and Zaw Win, a Burmese refugee and former political prisoner who owned the laundromat. Win’s ability to speak Burmese drew a lot of Burmese youth to the Massachusetts Avenue site.

Inside, the two-room arts space has nine chalkboards on one side of one room for drawing and a children’s corner. There are plans for a computer lab. The room in the rear has a pool table.

Greenleaf Development is building student housing for SUNY Buffalo State on the same block and owns the building, which it plans to eventually demolish. Company President Jim Swiezy is letting the WASH Project stay rent-free, which gives PUSH Buffalo time to rehab the former location, where the WASH Project hopes to return.

“We were talking to the PUSH folks, and they expressed a need for a short-term facility and we were able to oblige,” Swiezy said.

“I think this is a fantastic fit for the neighborhood, and actually it helps us accomplish what we’re trying to do, which is to bring some retail and positive activity to the street.”

PUSH plans to renovate the building at 417 Massachusetts Ave. by restoring the third floor and building affordable housing above the WASH Project. An October 2017 groundbreaking is planned.

“The WASH Project creates a space that is really needed in the neighborhood,” PUSH’s Jenifer Kaminsky said. “The arts programming they do, and the partnerships they bring in, like Legal Aid to provide legal services, makes for a unique space that doesn’t occur anywhere else.”

“I like that it’s a mixed-use space and is accessible for kids in the neighborhood,” said Hope Mora, another West Side resident. “They can come in and find their place in this arts community. I think that’s pretty special.”

There’s also a laundromat across the street for those who want to bring their clothes to get washed.

email: msommer@buffnews.com

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