A group of local residents think Needham needs a community center, and they’re hoping to get feedback on the idea from their friends and neighbors.
The Needham Lifelong Community Center board is a group of volunteers that formed last summer with the purpose of bringing forward the concept of a community center for the town.
After months of researching centers in other towns throughout Massachusetts and beyond and meeting with town officials, local clergy and people from all areas of Needham life, the board is ready to unveil their concept to the public and ask for suggestions, ideas and support.
“The Needham Lifelong Learning Center would be a place where the youth of Needham can go and spend time with their friends and have supervised activities,” said Nancy Sterling, board president. “The biggest component, the biggest attraction, is an Olympic-sized regulation swimming pool.”
The pool would provide a place for the Needham High School swim teams to practice—they currently use the pool at Babson College in Wellesley—and would be a great community resource for all ages, Sterling said.
“The need came up because a couple of Needham moms were hanging out together talking about where we have our kids take swim lessons,” she said.
Sterling's nine-year-old daughter currently takes lessons at the Dedham Health and Athletic Complex—a fine facility, she said, but somewhat inconvenient for Needham families.
The town does have its own resources—there’s , where classes are offered in the summer, and the , which also offers swim lessons. Then there is the , a private swim and tennis club that currently has a wait list for new memberships.
But with many of these facilities's swim classes filling up fast, limited schedules and a growing demographic of children and families in Needham who desire that type of program, Sterling and her board believe the town could use another option.
In fact, the group has met with representatives from the local YMCA and the , which operates Rosemary Pool, to talk about how the organizations could work together so that everyone benefits from a new center, Sterling said.
“It’s a great opportunity for these families to come together in one place to be with their children, a place where teens can socialize with their friends in a healthy and supervised environment,” said Polly Danielewski, a board member and new Needham resident.
So where do they go from here?
This week, the group is launching their Web site, needhamcommunitycenter.org, where people can go to learn more about the project, see samples of what the building might include, find photos of the board members and vote on features they would like to see included in a community center.
The group also will be sending out e-mail introductions to people throughout the community, explaining their vision and seeking input.
So far, the response has been positive, Danielewski said.
“We’re hearing that people think this should have happened a long time ago, and they’re very excited about the whole concept,” she said. “The people that we’ve presented this to, they’ve had great questions, which showed they’re really interested in it; they want to hear more.”
From the start, the community center group has tried to include all ages and areas of the community. Along with several Needham parents, the board has two high school members—NHS senior Alex Sherry and freshman Arden Marin—and one senior member, and they are hoping to have more involvement from both ends of the age spectrum.
Sherry said he got involved in the project while interning at Sterling’s law office last summer.
“We went to lunch and talked about it and I thought it was a great idea,” he said. “After 12 years of school in Needham, I’m very happy with what I’ve had, but I think something like this could improve the community even more. It would bring all these groups together in one place with all these different activities.”
Sherry also felt the competition-size pool would be great for his school's athletics program—though not a member himself, he has friends on the swim team.
"Sometimes the swim teams have to practice at really strange hours over at Babson, like late at night or whenever [to work around the pool schedule]. It’s really inconvenient for them," he said.
The Needham Lifelong Community Center board has secured permission to solicit funds in Massachusetts and is in the process of becoming an official charitable foundation, Sterling said.
They don’t yet have a design or a location for the building, though they are interested in being close to Needham Center.
“Our ideal is for kids to be able to walk from the high school or from Pollard Middle School and the older kids from some of the elementary schools to the community center,” Sterling said.
She said the group would have to talk with selectmen to see what parcels are available and that they did not have their eye on any one spot. They also don’t have a price tag for how much the center could cost to build.
The project could be a public-private partnership, similar to the way the fields at DeFazio Park were constructed, Danielewski said.
“We believe that if you can get enough excitement in town and you have enough people that really rally, great things happen,” Danielewski said. “It’s not a new concept. There’s a lot of towns that have a community center.”