The Five Towns Community Center has called Lawrence home for 115 years, and has created many programs and services to fit the community’s needs.
The center’s 50-year lease with Nassau County is set to expire in 2024, and the county was expected to renew it. But a request for proposals issued by the county on Jan. 2 has put the future of the center in jeopardy: The RFP is seeking people or entities to lease the Lawrence property and provide youth-oriented activities and services.
“We were led to believe from the current administration that we were able to come to some type of agreement to continue our services,” the center’s executive director, K. Brent Hill, said.
Hill noted that County Executive Bruce Blakeman, who took office a year ago, succeeding Laura Curran, was a supporter of renewing the lease. As of press time, Blakeman had not responded to a request for comment.
A person with knowledge of the situation, who spoke to the Herald on the condition of anonymity, said that when Curran ran for re-election, she assured the center that she would renew the lease. “After the election, it’s sort of been crickets,” the person said. “To add insult to injury, the county posted the RFP stating the community center will not be there in July of 2024.”
Hill said that the center’s board of directors hopes to meet with county officials — Blakeman specifically — to determine whether a deal can be made to continue providing services to the community. Board President Gwynn Campbell did not return calls seeking comment.
“I tend to be a very optimistic,” Hill said, “but I feel very uneasy about the situation.”
The deadline for responding to the RFP is March 1, which leaves community members worrying that a new entity will be chosen hastily by the county to take over the facility.
Established in 1907 in a building that sat on 5.7 acres of land, the center was first known as the Trade School, a place where people could learn a variety of vocational skills. It was eventually renamed the Inwood Community Center, and became the Five Towns Community Center in the 1970s. The current facility, on Lawrence Avenue, was built in 1972.
The center hosts a variety of program and services, including after-school programs for children, aid to the foreign-born, health and prevention services, and Gammy’s Pantry, which provides food and other necessities for those in need.
Local and regional nonprofit organizations, from Long Island Harvest to the Cedarhurst-based Rock and Wrap It Up!, have partnered with the facility.
“I would be very surprised if this goes through,” Rock and Wrap It Up! founder Syd Mandelbaum said. “I’m sure people will rethink this. There are things that the Five Towns Community Center brings to the table that are special.”
Hill said that the center has battled a false impression that it does not have an open-door policy for members of minority communities. “The Five Towns Community Center is a resource for people of all shades, nationalities, colors and backgrounds,” he said.
“We really are here for the community, regardless of their social status, immigration status and sexual orientation,” Hill added. “We are here for everyone.”
County Legislator Carrié Solages, who represents the neighborhood, noted the center’s longevity, and its importance to the people it serves. “As Nassau County considers its next steps, preserving and enhancing Five Towns Community Center’s tradition of community service must be our top priority,” Solages said in a statement to the Herald. “I will continue to work with local leaders to ensure that the community’s voice is heard and respected throughout this process.”
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