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Task force recommends creating a Lexington community center

Posted by Brock Parker  November 27, 2012 10:56 AM

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A task force established by selectmen is recommending Lexington create a community center with dedicated space for senior citizens and young people along with a café, kitchen and gym.

The recommendations came after a year and a half of work by the Community Center Task Force, which studied the town’s needs for a center and what has worked in other communities.

“This is a concept whose time has come,” Laura Hussong, chair of the task force, told selectmen as she relayed the findings of the task force at Town Hall Monday night.

The recommendation for the creation of a community center comes as the town is in talks with the Supreme Council of the Scottish Rite Masons, who are looking to sell their headquarters at 33 Marrett Road and a total of 10.4 acres of property and move into space in the neighboring National Heritage Museum.

Hussong told selectmen Monday that the task force was not asked to identify a location for a community center, but she said the members feel that the Scottish Rite property is a great site that is not to far from the center of town.

Selectmen chairwoman Deb Mauger said negotiations are ongoing for the Scottish Rite property, and a discussion by selectmen about the property’s re-use as a community center must wait until the result of those talks.

“We don’t know if we will be able to purchase it,” Mauger said.

But even if the town buys the Scottish Rite headquarters, the property does not have a gymnasium, which task force member Tim Dugan said is central to the concept of what could be shared space at a community center.

Dugan said that while the task force loves the idea of the Scottish Rite property, the members don’t want to miss out on having a gym for the center.

“We feel [the Scottish Rite property] is a liability because of the gym issue,” Dugan said.

The 71-page report by the task force on the creation of a community center recommends dedicated space for senior citizens and young people along with flexible rooms that can accommodate 10 to 200 people. The task force is also recommending space for exercise, arts and crafts, a stage for performances, private meeting space and a kitchen and café for the center.

Hussong said the center would be a place where people could go to socialize without paying a cost to attend.

“The point of a community center is to encourage casual gatherings and drop-in activities that people are clamoring for,” Hussong said.

The task force conducted a survey in the spring, and Hussong said that of more than 1,000 people who responded, about 80 percent felt that social events, education, arts, physical fitness and recreation are important categories that a community center would need to have. About 57 percent of those who responded said they would participate in a particular program at the center.

Hussong said the task force is also recommending that the town establish a follow-up task force to develop a formal process for creating a community center and appoint an architect to finalize the building requirements and develop a design plan.

Selectman Norman Cohen said the report of the task force was very well done, and is something the board needs to consider as it is preparing to set the town’s tax rate in December.

“There is a cost in all of this and I think we should be looking into it,” Cohen said.

Selectman Peter Kelley said there has been interest in creating a community center in Lexington for 20 years, but finding a location has repeatedly presented problems. While a gym could be very costly, Kelley said the Scottish Rite property has “tremendous potential” for a community center.

But Mauger said the board would wait to discuss the next steps regarding a community center until future meetings because the Scottish Rite property negotiations are ongoing and the town is also awaiting a report from a master planning committee.

“We don’t want to lose enthusiasm and momentum, but we have a lot of things in play,” Mauger said.

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