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Lexington task force recommends community center with gym, café

A task force established by Lexington’s Board of Selectmen is recommending that the town create a community center with dedicated space for senior citizens and young people along with a café, kitchen, and gym.

The recommendations followed 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, the task force’s chairwoman, told selectmen during the board’s meeting Monday night in Town Hall .

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The discussion comes as the town is in talks with the Supreme Council of the Scottish Rite Masons concerning its headquarters at 33 Marrett Road. The organization is looking to sell the 10.4-acre property, and move into the adjacent National Heritage Museum, which it also owns.

Hussong told selectmen Monday that the task force was not asked to identify a location for a community center, but its members feel the Scottish Rite building would be a great site, not far from the center of town.

Selectwoman Deb Mauger,  the board’s chairwoman, said any discussion about the property’s potential re-use for a community center must wait until the selectmen’s negotiations with the Masons are settled.

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

The Scottish Rite property does not have a gymnasium, a feature that task force member Tim Dugan said is central to the concept of a shared community space.

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

“We feel it is a liability because of the gym issue,” he said.

The task force’s 71-page report recommends a facility with dedicated spaces for senior citizens and the town’s youth, along with rooms that can be arranged to accommodate gatherings of 10 to 200 people. The task force is also recommending space for exercise groups, arts and crafts, a stage for performances, a kitchen and a café.

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

“The point of a community center is to encourage casual gatherings and drop-in activities that people are clamoring for,” she 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 the respondents 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 hire an architect to finalize the building requirements and develop a design plan.

Selectman Norman Cohen said the report was very well done, and is something the board needs to consider as it is preparing to set the town’s tax rate for this fiscal year.

“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 adding a gym could be very costly, Kelley said, the Scottish Rite property has “tremendous potential.”

But Mauger noted that in addition to its talks with the Masons, her board is waiting for a report from a master planning committee, giving it another reason to delay a discussion on the next steps regarding a community center.

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

The League of Women Voters of Lexington will host a forum this week on whether the town needs an all-ages community center.

Hussong will lead the discussion Friday at 9:30 a.m. in Cary Memorial Library’s community meeting room. Other members of the committee will also be on hand to discuss their findings.

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