Gwynn Campbell, board president of the Five Towns Community Center,...

Gwynn Campbell, board president of the Five Towns Community Center, says she supports teaming up with the JCC to keep the center's doors open. Credit: Tom Lambui

Two organizations are competing to run the Five Towns Community Center — a bedrock of the community where thousands of families mingle and access services — after the Nassau County executive said the 50-year lease wouldn’t be renewed. 

The Marion & Aaron Gural JCC and Lawrence Union Free School District each submitted bids to operate services at the 51,000-square-foot Lawrence center. County Executive Bruce Blakeman previously said he would appoint a committee to weigh the two proposals. The center, which serves 6,000 families yearly, offers resources for those experiencing hunger, as well as health programs and youth services. 

Many residents are outraged that the center is losing its lease and have called on county legislators to keep the community cornerstone, and have staged rallies in support.

Eloise Thomas moved to the area in 1992 from Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. She said she immediately turned to the center as a steppingstone in adjusting to her new life in America. The Inwood woman said the center provided her a place to belong, where she didn't feel like an immigrant. 

“The community center literally represents air," she said. "Can you imagine not having air to breathe? That’s what the community center is." 

The nonprofit deeded its 7 acres to Nassau County in 1974 in exchange for a 50-year lease and construction of a new building. The RFP created by the county shows the property is being advertised “as is.” 

The nonprofit JCC wants to join forces with the Five Towns Community Center and allow the center to operate as a tenant when its lease expires July 3, 2024. Speaking to Newsday last week, community center leadership said the JCC proposal was not a “takeover,” but instead a “lifeline.” 

The JCC’s proposal would allow the community center to maintain its independent leadership and continue operating on its campus, as it has for more than 100 years. No jobs would be eliminated with the partnership, board president Gwynn Campbell said, adding that the community center issued a letter of support to the county for the JCC proposal.

“We’re working very, very hard to dispel that word ‘takeover.’ There is no takeover,” Campbell said of the proposal. “This is not being presented that way. It’s a collaborative venture.” 

The JCC, which operates its headquarters in Cedarhurst, would move to the Lawrence Avenue site. The community center would operate out of the 7,500-square-foot north wing. The JCC would invest a minimum of $7 million into the facility, including the addition of a health and wellness center and enhanced community meeting space. 

“This proposal brings together two longstanding organizations that have served this community,” Feldman said. 

The Lawrence school district wants to independently operate the center and transform it into a hub for district students and families. The district’s proposal includes a reading center, vocational training programs and a college and career center. The goal is to create a centralized location for free services to meet the needs of the whole child, said Superintendent Ann Pedersen. 

“The real excellent way to deliver comprehensive services is through this type of center, which is coordinated with the school,” she said. “This is the way we can elevate the lives of students and their families.” 

Although the district’s primary focus is on student services, Pedersen said community offerings would also be available, but the district was finalizing details. The new center would enable the district to expand services, such as those related to mental health and job training. Eighty-eight percent of students in the Lawrence school district are economically disadvantaged, she said, adding that their families would benefit, too.

“Families need a safe place for their students to be able to go outside of the traditional school day,” Pedersen said. “We want to provide that level of service with coordination with the school in a safe and secure environment.” 

The Five Towns Community Center, a nonprofit, has roots stretching back to 1907, when the Margaret Sage Industrial School was established to meet the needs of Inwood's immigrant population. The effort grew into the Nassau Industrial Arts Trade School before becoming the Five Towns Community House in 1942. That organization merged in 1969 with the Economic Opportunity Council for the Five Towns Inc. to become the Five Towns Community Center Inc. 

Although the organization names have changed, the mission of serving community members has stayed the same, said executive director K. Brent Hill. The center has served as the bedrock of the community and has multigenerational clients, Campbell said. 

The center has faced challenges through the years: first, when arsonists burned down the center in 1969, then again in 2007, when Nassau County considered selling the property but reconsidered after public outcry. 

Nassau County Legis. Carrié Solages (D-Lawrence) has worked as a link between the community center and the county since at least 2018. Letters provided to Newsday show that Solages has advocated for the center and asked former Nassau County Executive Laura Curran and Blakeman to extend the center’s lease. Both declined. 

“The constituents are very upset,” Solages said. "There's a great deal of confusion and disappointment.”

Two organizations are competing to run the Five Towns Community Center — a bedrock of the community where thousands of families mingle and access services — after the Nassau County executive said the 50-year lease wouldn’t be renewed. 

The Marion & Aaron Gural JCC and Lawrence Union Free School District each submitted bids to operate services at the 51,000-square-foot Lawrence center. County Executive Bruce Blakeman previously said he would appoint a committee to weigh the two proposals. The center, which serves 6,000 families yearly, offers resources for those experiencing hunger, as well as health programs and youth services. 

Many residents are outraged that the center is losing its lease and have called on county legislators to keep the community cornerstone, and have staged rallies in support.

Eloise Thomas moved to the area in 1992 from Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. She said she immediately turned to the center as a steppingstone in adjusting to her new life in America. The Inwood woman said the center provided her a place to belong, where she didn't feel like an immigrant. 

WHAT TO KNOW

  • The Five Towns Community Center is losing its lease after 50 years because the Nassau County executive declined to renew it. 
  • The Marion & Aaron Gural JCC and Lawrence Union Free School District each submitted bids to operate services at the site.
  • The Lawrence school district would independently operate the center and transform it into a hub for district students and families under its plan. The JCC’s proposal would allow the community center to maintain its independent leadership and continue operating on its campus.

“The community center literally represents air," she said. "Can you imagine not having air to breathe? That’s what the community center is." 

The nonprofit deeded its 7 acres to Nassau County in 1974 in exchange for a 50-year lease and construction of a new building. The RFP created by the county shows the property is being advertised “as is.” 

The nonprofit JCC wants to join forces with the Five Towns Community Center and allow the center to operate as a tenant when its lease expires July 3, 2024. Speaking to Newsday last week, community center leadership said the JCC proposal was not a “takeover,” but instead a “lifeline.” 

The JCC’s proposal would allow the community center to maintain its independent leadership and continue operating on its campus, as it has for more than 100 years. No jobs would be eliminated with the partnership, board president Gwynn Campbell said, adding that the community center issued a letter of support to the county for the JCC proposal.

“We’re working very, very hard to dispel that word ‘takeover.’ There is no takeover,” Campbell said of the proposal. “This is not being presented that way. It’s a collaborative venture.” 

The JCC, which operates its headquarters in Cedarhurst, would move to the Lawrence Avenue site. The community center would operate out of the 7,500-square-foot north wing. The JCC would invest a minimum of $7 million into the facility, including the addition of a health and wellness center and enhanced community meeting space. 

“This proposal brings together two longstanding organizations that have served this community,” Feldman said. 

The Lawrence school district wants to independently operate the center and transform it into a hub for district students and families. The district’s proposal includes a reading center, vocational training programs and a college and career center. The goal is to create a centralized location for free services to meet the needs of the whole child, said Superintendent Ann Pedersen. 

“The real excellent way to deliver comprehensive services is through this type of center, which is coordinated with the school,” she said. “This is the way we can elevate the lives of students and their families.” 

Although the district’s primary focus is on student services, Pedersen said community offerings would also be available, but the district was finalizing details. The new center would enable the district to expand services, such as those related to mental health and job training. Eighty-eight percent of students in the Lawrence school district are economically disadvantaged, she said, adding that their families would benefit, too.

“Families need a safe place for their students to be able to go outside of the traditional school day,” Pedersen said. “We want to provide that level of service with coordination with the school in a safe and secure environment.” 

The Five Towns Community Center, a nonprofit, has roots stretching back to 1907, when the Margaret Sage Industrial School was established to meet the needs of Inwood's immigrant population. The effort grew into the Nassau Industrial Arts Trade School before becoming the Five Towns Community House in 1942. That organization merged in 1969 with the Economic Opportunity Council for the Five Towns Inc. to become the Five Towns Community Center Inc. 

Although the organization names have changed, the mission of serving community members has stayed the same, said executive director K. Brent Hill. The center has served as the bedrock of the community and has multigenerational clients, Campbell said. 

The center has faced challenges through the years: first, when arsonists burned down the center in 1969, then again in 2007, when Nassau County considered selling the property but reconsidered after public outcry. 

Nassau County Legis. Carrié Solages (D-Lawrence) has worked as a link between the community center and the county since at least 2018. Letters provided to Newsday show that Solages has advocated for the center and asked former Nassau County Executive Laura Curran and Blakeman to extend the center’s lease. Both declined. 

“The constituents are very upset,” Solages said. "There's a great deal of confusion and disappointment.”

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