The vision: what is a Community Center, and why would Lincoln want to build one?
A Community Center not only reflects the community at whose heart it sits, it strengthens that community. A Community Center is a year-round, intergenerational gathering place and activity center. A Community Center is a locus for a wide variety of activities – health and fitness, social services, learning, eating, socializing, creating, playing, participating. A Community Center enriches the community by fostering organizational collaboration and by housing an array of programs, for all ages.
At its heart, the Community Center is a home for the Lincoln Council on Aging & Human Services and the Parks & Recreation Department, both of which do much more than most people realize, and both of which run constrained programs in their current homes. The Community Center also provides a base for 25 other community organizations whose work is critical to the quality of life in Lincoln. But the vision of a Community Center on the Lincoln School campus is of a building that exists not only to serve important organizational needs and to optimize programming, though those might be adequate reasons for building a new building, it is also of a building that will attract residents of all ages to gather for coffee and meetings and informal activities.
Lincoln has a sense of community – we have impromptu encounters at the transfer station and at Donelan’s, we have annual events like the Scarecrow Classic, the Girl Scouts Pancake Breakfast, the July 4 parade, and we have Town Meeting. But the everyday contribution of a Community Center to the life of the community and to the sense of community can be far greater, and the possibilities are exciting – because the number of people using the Center will be so much higher, because the range of activities will be much greater, because the opportunities for intergenerational interaction will expand, because the provision of social services will be improved and the organizations providing those services will be more robust.
What is the CCBC – which stakeholders are represented, what are its tasks, and how can
We encourage questions, and have been asked for information on the Community Center Building Committee (CCBC), including its role and responsibilities.
In March, 2022, the Lincoln Annual Town Meeting voted with near unanimity to restart the Community Center planning and design process, and to request that the Select Board appoint a building committee. (The specific motion is appended below.)
So the Select Board appointed a Community Center Building Committee (CCBC), which started work at the beginning of June. (The membership list is appended below.). The initial task of the CCBC has been to prepare an initial funding proposal – if the Town approves this proposal, for up to $325,000, at the Special Town Meeting on November 30, then the CCBC will hire an Owner’s Project Manager and a project architect to prepare schematic designs. The Town will have the opportunity to select its preferred design, and then it will have the additional opportunity to vote on funding for the construction of the Community Center. (The specific charge of the CCBC is appended below.)
The CCBC will be building on the work of a series of town committees that have developed the concept and parameters for a Community Center in Lincoln. The CCBC will refine the concept, incorporating lessons from COVID and from the school building process, continuing the search for cost savings, and incorporating input about programmatic priorities.
The CCBC and its subcommittees hold open meetings and invite public participation. The schedule of those meetings is available on the town website, and the CCBC will use other forums to inform residents about upcoming meetings and their agendas. We particularly urge residents to look for information on the CCBC website (https://lincolncommunitycenter.com/).
Members of the CCBC:
AT-LARGE MEMBERS: Sarah Chester, Chair; Timothy Christenfeld; Alison Taunton-Rigby; Krystal Wood
BOARD REPRESENTATIVES: Jonathan Dwyer, Select Board; Rob Stringer, Parks & Recreation Committee; Susan Taylor, School Committee; Ellen Meyer-Shorb, Finance Committee; Dilla Tingley, Council on Aging & Human Services
BOARD LIAISONS: Kim Bodnar, Select Board; Lynn DeLisi, Planning Board; Andrew Glass, Historical Commission; Steve Gladstone, Water Department; Roy Harvey, Green Energy Committee; Indrani Kharbanda, Library Board of Trustees; David Levington, Friends of the Lincoln Library
EX-OFFICIO MEMBERS: Abigail Butt, COA & Human Services Director; Jessica Downing, Parks and Recreation Director; Timothy Higgins, Town Administrator; Brandon Kelly, Facilities Director; Daniel Pereira, Asst. Town Administrator
Motion approved at Town Meeting, March, 2022:
That the Town provide the Select Board with a sense of the meeting as to restarting the Community Center planning and design process, and, if such sense of the meeting is in the affirmative, to request that the Board appoint a building committee, by whatever title, to review the results of previous planning efforts and to present its findings in an expedited manner so that a request for funds for planning and design services could appear on the warrant for a fall 2022 Special Town Meeting.
The official tasks of the CCBC:
1. Review and become familiar with previous plans and existing materials.
2. Create a plan for gathering stakeholder input, and for regular communication with, and input from relevant Town boards, committees, and the community. As appropriate, this will require collaboration with the School Committee and/or Building Committee.
3. Work with the Town Administrator to ensure that the process for contracting with an Owners’ Project Manager (OPM) and project Architect are carried out in compliance with state law and with an emphasis on diversity.
4. Review the program again, taking care to consider how COVID experiences and lessons might inform programs, interior space layout, outdoor amenities, and design, and the role the new and renovated school spaces might play.
5. Review the two CCBC design concepts and schematics to identify opportunities for improvement, including potential cost savings that may be achieved through re- evaluating the project scope or by other means. Develop the schematic designs to the extent required to ensure reliable cost estimating.
6. Lead the public engagement process which will culminate in a Town Meeting vote to select a preferred design concept and budget.
7. Once funds are approved, oversee the process for finalizing the design, bidding,
contract award and construction, including repaving of Ballfield Road and any new paths serving the Community Center. Lead public engagement process as necessary for input into value engineering.
Why would Lincoln build a new Community Center rather than use existing buildings?
For over 10 years, Town Committees have studied and evaluated options for a Community Center, and have consistently concluded that it is inappropriate for COA&HS to continue to offer activities and services under the existing conditions of Bemis Hall, and that the Hartwell Pods, built as temporary classrooms over 60 years ago are no longer acceptable for the programs and activities of PRD. Other existing town facilities do not offer a solution to the problem. If Lincoln wants a Community Center, then building a new one is the most efficient use of town resources to solve these and several other challenges.
These are the relevant findings about the COA&HS at Bemis Hall, from a series of town
• A 2008 needs assessment “determined that Bemis Hall not be the long-term home for the COA.” (Since that assessment, the Lincoln senior population has increased by 50%.)
• In 2012, the Community Center Feasibility Committee (CCFC) concluded about Bemis Hall that it was “not built to be a modern senior center with myriad programs and services.”
• The CCFC reiterated in a 2013 follow-up that Bemis is “not well suited for a senior center.”
• In February, 2015, the Community Center Study Committee (CCSC) reported that, “compared with neighboring towns, the quality, size and condition of Lincoln’s COA facility is vastly inferior, and its physical deficits limit the programs and services which can be offered to elders.”
• The CCSC provided additional detail about the shortcomings of Bemis Hall: “the interior space does not allow for congregate meals, a significant drop-in area, adequate and confidential office space for staff and volunteers, private restroom locations, or all programming needed to meet the needs of Lincoln’s growing population of older adults.”
• In 2018, the Community Center Preliminary Planning & Development Committee wrote
more broadly that:
Doing nothing to provide adequate facilities for the COA, PRD [Parks &
Recreation Department], and community organizations is not an option. The
physical plants of both Bemis Hall and the pods continue to age, and it makes
no sense for the Town to continue to expend scarce tax dollars to fix up, patch
up and make do with facilities that do not suit their purpose. Just as important,
every year that these departments and organizations are not able to provide the
range of activities and programs that are standard in other towns and are
located in buildings that discourage residents from making use of their services
means that opportunities to improve residents’ quality of life are lost.
In 2012, the CCFC studied other town facilities, asking whether any existing building could serve as a better home for the COA&HS than Bemis Hall. The CCFC concluded that no other existing building could serve the needs of the COA. Pierce House, for instance, has two assets – a good location and plentiful parking – but fails on every other criterion as a potential home for the COA&HS: the spaces in the existing building do not match the programmatic needs, the possibilities for extensive expansion or reconfiguration are very limited, and Pierce House
could not accommodate the Parks & Recreation Department (PRD).
Why would the Community Center be on the Hartwell campus?
If Lincoln decides to build a Community Center, that Center is expected to be on the Hartwell Campus, adjoining the Lincoln Public Schools. There are several reasons for this determination, but it is worth highlighting two of them here:
First, there is a set of practical reasons, having to do with the inclusion of the Parks & Recreation Department (PRD) in the Community Center. It is much more efficient to build a Center that houses both the PRD and the Lincoln Council on Aging & Human Services, because almost every space in the shared building would be a shared space. And because it is very important for the PRD to remain close to the Lincoln Schools, so that the schoolchildren have easy access to the PRD after-school programming, it makes sense to locate the Community Center where there is space on the school campus.
Second, the Community Center is expected to be at Hartwell because that is the clearly stated preference of the residents of Lincoln. For instance, at the State of the Town Meeting on November 15, 2014, 350 residents expressed their preferences for a Community Center site, with a very large majority choosing the Hartwell site, among five options. The Community Center Study Committee therefore concluded:
The overwhelmingly favored choice for a location by Lincoln residents is at the Hartwell complex, where it would help to anchor an entire “community campus” consisting of the Community Center, the Lincoln Public Schools, the Town playgrounds and playing fields, and the Codman Pool.
Public feedback on the preferred site for the Community Center (State of the Town, November,
What is the recent history of official discussion of a Community Center in Lincoln – what
questions have previous committees asked and what answers has Lincoln given to those
In 2012, the Select Board appointed a Community Center Feasibility Committee to evaluate
existing and future space needs of the Council on Aging & Human Services (COA&HS) and the
Parks & Recreation Department (PRD). The Committee concluded that Bemis was not well-
suited for use as a senior center, and that the Hartwell Pods, home to PRD, were long past
their life expectancy. The Committee recommended that the Select Board lead a public
process to assess the Town’s interest in a new community center and to study potential sites.
In 2015, the Board appointed a Community Center Study Committee to determine the Town’s
desire for a community center and to examine sites. The Committee concluded that
COA&HS’s needs are acute and immediate, and that PRD’s needs are significant. After
extensive and multiple opportunities for public participation and input were provided, the
“overwhelming” choice for location, among five site alternatives, was the Hartwell Campus.
In 2016, the Select Board and School Committee jointly appointed a Campus Master Planning
Committee to determine whether the Ballfield Road Campus has the capacity to absorb
additional uses, including a community center. The Committee concluded that there is no
engineering or regulatory reason precluding a community center on the Ballfield Road
In 2018, the Community Center Preliminary Planning and Design Committee (CCPPDC), the
most recent Community Center planning Committee, issued its report. CCPPDC advanced the
process to the point that we now have two conceptual design options for a new Community
Center in the Hartwell area of the Ballfield Road school campus. CCPPDC’s contributions
include: further definition of the program; development of a range of site plans; preliminary
design development for two building concepts; and more refined cost estimates. CCPPDC’s
work culminated in a Special Town Meeting presentation on June 9, 2018. In the end, both
CCPPDC and Town Meeting felt that both conceptual designs that were presented (i.e., a new
building concept that was titled “Central Secondary Green”, and a plan to repurpose the pods
titled “Infill of Pods”) were equally worthy of further consideration. What will the operating
costs of the new Community Center be?
The short answer is that we can’t know the operating costs of a building that we haven’t
designed yet. However, we can specify some parameters which would help to narrow the
possible answers to the question:
The Town already pays the operating costs of a set of buildings that house the Council on
Aging & Human Services (COA&HS) and the Parks & Recreation Department (PRD), specifically
Bemis Hall and two of the Hartwell Pods. So the appropriate question is not what the
operating costs of the Community Center will be, but how those costs will be different from
the current costs.
The Town will continue to pay operating costs for Bemis even if the COA&HS, moves out
(though it is likely that those costs will diminish as the intensity of use diminishes, and the
Town’s expenses are likely to be increasingly offset by rental income and fees from
community organizations). But most plans have at least two of the Hartwell Pods
disappearing — demolished or integrated — with the construction of the Community Center,
so the appropriate focus here is on the net change in operating costs for the Hartwell Pods
versus the Community Center.
The Hartwell Pods are very inefficient buildings, while the Community Center would be a very
efficient – probably net-zero – building, so there would be a large savings in utility costs. That
savings might be offset by an increase in custodial costs. The Pods currently have part-time
custodial support (carried on the school budget), while the Community Center would
probably have a full-time custodian. (Additional personnel expenses, such as staffing for a
reception desk, are very hard to model at this point, because we don’t know if those tasks will
be necessary, or if they might be performed by volunteers or rotating staff or seniors working
for tax abatements.) For planning purposes, it is reasonable to expect that any net change in
operating expenses from a new Community Center – a decrease in utility costs offset by a
possible increase in custodial costs — would not have a discernible impact on property tax
When will town residents have decisive input in the Community Center planning
December 2, 2023:
The CCBC will present comprehensive design and budget options at a Special Town
Meeting, and town residents will select the preferred option.
At Town Meeting and in a subsequent ballot vote, town residents will vote to authorize
the financing for the construction of the Community Center, based on the design and
budget selected in November. For approval, the bond vote requires a 2/3 majority at
Town Meeting and a simple majority at the ballot.
What comparable facilities exist, or are being created, in towns similar to Lincoln?
• Dover (population 6,180, seniors 1,489) is rebuilding its Caryl Community Center. The
new design involves the demolition of the 1971 and 1931 additions to the original 1910
Caryl School. The new building complex will be ~ 18,400 sf and will focus on the
creation of a new pavilion addition to support congregate dining, small performances,
presentations, and theatrical rehearsals. The other addition will be the Recreation
Room which will be half the size of a regulation basketball court, but lined to support
pickleball, elementary school level basketball, and a regulation half-court (for team
practices or adult games). Town funds of $25.4 M were approved in June 2023.
Ground was broken in August 2023.
• Harvard (population 6,829, seniors 1,435) has a new 5,400 sf senior Center, built in
2022/2023 by partial renovation of an acquired 1995 existing medical building. The
town PRD has administration in the town offices, and activities in a number of
locations. The cost of the Harvard senior center was $2.86 M.
• Stow (population 7,210, seniors 2,164) renovated an existing 33,000 sf building in 2016
to house a Fire Dept location, shared storage, and the COA. Estimated space for the
COA is 1/3 of the building (~11,000 sf), cost details not found. Rec administration is in
the town center, with activities in many locations.
• Weston (population 11,806, seniors 3,045) built a freestanding 22,500 sf Community
Center in the style of a New England Barn in 2001. The building contains activity
rooms and administration space for both COA and Rec, and the 2 1⁄2 story Great Room
(~3,200 sf) for large events, performances, receptions, dinners etc.
• Wayland (population 14,325, seniors 4,323) is developing a an existing, never-
occupied, 10,500 sf, building shell as a Community Center, to house COA admin and
activities, and Rec activities. The Rec administration is remaining at the Town
Building. The finished building will be 12,900 sf, and the interior construction and
with parking/landscaping is expected to cost $11 M. Funding was approved late June
2022. The construction documents are expected to go out to bid in late 2023.
• Bedford (population 13,631, seniors 4,180) has an ~18,000 sf building in the Town
Center that houses the Health Department, Recreation Department, Youth & Family
Services, and the Council on Aging. The Rec dept also has facilities in an extension
building, with the Bedford Kids Club, and has activities in many locations.
• Concord (population 18,424, seniors 4,975) has the Harvey Wheeler Community Center
in West Concord for the Council on Aging/Senior services. It is in a repurposed,
unused school building (2007) in West Concord, and includes space for the COA admin
and activities. The Rec dept has a number of facilities including the Hunt Recreation
Center (which includes Rec admin) at Emerson Field, the Beede Swim and Fitness
Center, and multiple school playing fields and playgrounds,
• Sudbury (population 18,709, seniors 4,722) is currently rebuilding/adding to the
multipurpose complex at Fairbanks, which houses school space, Rec admin and
facilities (including gym and pool) and CoA admin and activity space, and shared
space. Size is about 42,575 sf and town has approved funding of $27.5 M.
• Acton (population 23,829, seniors 5,004) has separate locations for COA and Rec dept.
• Wellesley (population 29,266, seniors 6,739) built the 12,400 sf Tolles Parsons senior
center in 2017. Wellesley has also renovated its recreation center.
How will COA&HS and PRD use other town facilities?
COA&HS currently runs many programs in facilities other than Bemis Hall, and PRD runs many
programs in facilities other than the Hartwell Pods. The Directors of COA&HS and PRD have,
as part of the planning process for the new Community Center, invested considerable time in
developing a plan for dispersed programming, so that it will not be necessary to build a new
facility scoped to accommodate all programming.
Based on the current programming, PRD expects to run at least 19 programs outside the
Community Center. The locations for the dispersed programs include Bemis Hall, Pierce
House, and the school buildings. COA&HS expects to run at least 16 programs outside the
Community Center. The locations for the dispersed programs include Bemis Hall and Pierce
House. COA&HS also has six programs that have moved online since the beginning of COVID,
and that could continue to operate online. There are many locations in town that would be
suitable venues for these programs if the participants decide that meeting in person would be
There is a short list of programs that are currently operated outside the core facility but that
would operate more effectively in the new Community Center. The most important one is
Senior Dining, which is currently run in the First Parish Church, but which could run more
efficiently and more often in the Community Center. There are also several exercise
programs that run outdoors at Pierce House in summer months that could be improved by a
move to the Community Center (because Pierce House does not have accessible bathrooms,
nor does it have an evenly paved area for the classes).
How many seniors live in Lincoln?
There are two primary sources for information about who lives in Lincoln: the decennial U.S.
census, and the annual Town census. Both sources rely on citizens’ self-reporting, and so
neither is completely valid. Every 10 years, the U.S. Census Bureau invites all U.S. households
to complete an online survey, and then uses census workers to follow up with households that
fail to complete the survey (roughly a quarter of the total). For intervening years, the Census
Bureau issues population estimates. The Town Census is conducted annually – residents
complete and return a form that they receive in the mail – and the population count is based
upon the returned forms, supplemented by information from voter registration rolls, the
Registry of Motor Vehicles, and birth and death records.
Massachusetts General Laws require that cities and towns conduct an annual census of
its residents as of January 1 of each year. The local census is used to maintain voting
and jury lists as well as aid in school enrollment projections, public safety, and senior
citizens’ needs and for certain privileges such as veterans’ benefits and proof of
residency for state colleges and universities.
For planning purposes, and for comparisons with other towns, the CCBC has opted to use the
Town numbers rather than the federal numbers. The U.S. Census provides a useful picture of
overall demographic trends, and allows broader comparisons (with, for instance, localities that
are not required to conduct their own censuses). But, because the Town Census is conducted
and updated at the local level, it provides a more complete and verifiable list of town residents.
According to the most recent Town Census, the population of Lincoln is 6,524. Of that total,
979 are residents of Hanscom Air Force Base, and 248 are residents of The Commons. The
number of residents aged 60 and over is 2,181. While the population of Lincoln has been
somewhat stable over the last 10 years — the Town Census reported a total population of 6,216
in 2012 and of 6,730 in 2017 – the number of residents aged 60 and over has been growing
steadily. In 2012, 29% of the total population was age 60 and over (1,814 out of 6,216), while in
2022 33% of the population is 60 and over.
For reference, the U.S. Census reported in 2020 that the population of Lincoln was 7,014, and
the population estimate for 2022 is 6,855. According to the U.S. Census estimate, 23% of the
population is over 60 (which would be a senior population of 1,576).