In response to Nassau County’s request for proposals from potential new tenants for the Five Towns Community Center, the Lawrence school district has pledged to spend $10 million to renovate the five-decade-old building on Lawrence Avenue.
Along with a proposal by the Marion & Aaron Gural JCC to partner with the community center, this was the second submission made to the county by its March 1 deadline.
“The new proposed center supports current research by the creation of an environment where wraparound services are available to the whole child and whole community,” Lawrence Schools Superintendent Ann Pedersen stated in a news release. “The focus will be on community involvement, family engagement, academic support, extended year services, counseling and psychological services.”
The county owns the property at 270 Lawrence Ave. where the community center has operated since 1972. Its 50-year lease with the county, signed in 1974, is set to expire next year, and it has not been offered an extension.
The county’s RFP, issued in January, is seeking a new tenant that can provide youth-oriented activities and services, and can make a minimum of $5 million in capital improvements to the property.
The school district is proposing to create programs and services that meet the needs of its students. Its list includes a reading center, a vocational center, a social and emotional center, a college and career center, facilities for early education and the Head Start program, an English as a New Language center and a parent resource center as well as new athletics facilities.
“The school district is primarily responsible for the education of the vast majority of the children that are serviced in the current community center,” Board of Education President Murray Forman said. “We felt that it was a natural extension to use that facility and facilitate offerings that would serve the entire community.”
The Gural JCC is seeking to spend a minimum of $7 million on capital improvements and to collaborate with the current center, according to a news release it issued on Monday.
“The plan is to provide the Five Towns Community Center with a beautifully renovated space to accommodate its services and programming, and to continue to operate independently,” Cal Nathan, president of the Community Chest of the South Shore, stated in the release. “The Community Center will have its own main entrance and lobby, and an enhanced gym and newly renovated space enabling it to continue to provide critical programs and services to the community. My Board and I are proud to support this proposal to enhance the lives of all residents of the Five Towns.”
Nathan was the Herald’s 2022 Person of the Year. His organization has donated money to the community center to help families in need.
“We are the best advocate for the children in North Woodmere, North Lawrence and Inwood,” Lawrence school board Trustee Heshy Blachorsky said. “If not us, then who?”
Asked if the Lawrence district would collaborate with the community center, Forman said, “Certain programs will entail collaboration.”
On Facebook group pages, many people posted that they were not confident that the JCC would adequately serve those who use the existing community center programs and services.
“If the JCC takes over, then they are not going to care about the non-Jewish community,” Dan Segarra wrote. “They have their own interests.”
County Executive Bruce Blakeman has officially closed out any hope for a future for the community center in its current form. In a statement, Blakeman said it was time for “some fresh blood in there.”
Blakeman said he would appoint a committee to review both proposals and make a recommendation in the coming weeks. As of press time, calls to the county executive seeking further comment had not been returned.
County Legislator Carrie Solages criticized Blakeman’s infrequent updates on the status of the community center. “For months, the process of determining the future of the Five Towns Community Center has been marred by a lack of communication from the County Executive’s office,” Solages said in a news release, “and this has caused many residents to feel like their voices are not being heard.”
In response to the county’s RFP, neighbors, volunteers and employees of the center have protested, held a community meeting on Jan. 25 and voiced their views at a session of the County Legislature. The community center hosted a town hall meeting on Monday.
“I don’t think there is an organization in town that has done more for the underserved population of this community than the Lawrence public school district,” Forman said. “I’m not familiar with the intentions and programs of the JCC, but its mission is probably best described by its name. These are our kids, and this is our mission.”
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