Citing a variety of factors that affect the welfare of young people, several community activists are pushing for the creation of a community center in the Neponset-Adams Corner section of Dorchester. During a joint meeting next Tuesday, October 15, at 7:30 p.m. at the McKeon Post, members of the Cedar Grove Civic Association and the Pope's Hill Neighborhood Association will discuss different ways of proceeding in an ongoing effort to bring a community center to their neighborhood.
John O'Toole, president of the Cedar Grove Civic Association, told The Reporter that he wants the gathering place "for selfish reasons. I have three young sons."
O'Toole said that loitering, an increased drug presence, and a lack of sufficient athletic facilities in the area have helped make the proposed community center an idea "resurrected."
"It's always been the objective of the people in the neighborhood for children, teens, and even seniors if we have the facilities, to provide a space where they can congregate," O'Toole said. "On weekend nights, you see these kids hanging on the corner with no place to go. If we can establish a community center, we can at least say we tried to get these kids off the street."
Craig Galvin, a resident of Minot Street, agreed, pointing to use of drugs like oxycontin and ecstasy as growing problems.
"There's no reason why we shouldn't have one," Galvin said. "With the people that are buying houses here and the cost of housing here, there's a need in the community for it."
"I think that there's a lack of facilities in the area for the kids," said C-11 Captain Robert Dunford, who said he has lived in the area for more than 30 years. But Dunford expressed doubt that a new community center is likely in the near future, and suggested that civic leaders "investigate a lot of issues."
While the Richard J. Murphy Elementary School on Worrell Street includes a community center with a gym, pool, tutoring facilities, and a teen center, Dunford said, "I don't think the programs at the Murphy reach enough kids.
"I think that more effort should be on making the Murphy offer more programs."
Dunford also said a community center "is not going to address the underlying issue of why kids will swallow any pill anybody hands them."
Betty Murray, director of the Murphy community center, said an initial meeting two weeks ago for the school-year teen program drew 15 teens, adding that the program has proven popular in the past.
"I'm sure another facility would be well used," said Murray, who said she hadn't noticed rising drug use but did express concern about increased underage drinking. "Any help would be welcome. Anything to keep the kids busy."
O'Toole said next week's meeting will be a sort of brainstorming session for area residents, and said he hopes the idea will gain a groundswell of momentum.
"It's really incumbent upon us as parents and community people to help these kids," O'Toole said. "If you have nothing to do and you're a young teen, trouble is going to find you."
O'Toole said the next step would be to involve local elected officials and potential corporate sponsors.
Two obstacles facing O'Toole and other community center proponents are adequate funding and a suitable location.
"I understand that these are tough fiscal times," O'Toole said. "It would be unrealistic to expect the state to underwrite this."
Peter Nagle, a spokesman for Mayor Thomas Menino, said, "In these tough financial times, people need to be creative in accessing funds and putting people and resources together toward everyone's goals."
According to Nagle, this year's Boston capital plan included a "mention of a community center feasibility site study but no money was ever actually appropriated" and the initiative was not specific to the Neponset-Adams Corner area.
One site that has drawn interest from the community is the site on the Neponset River where Schlager Towing used to operate. This land, on Granite Ave. between Hilltop St. and the Neponset, boasts a Quonset hut that could be used for indoor space and athletic facilities.
Two years ago, the state Legislature appropriated money for the Metropolitan District Commission (MDC) to buy the land from the estate which owns it, with the stated intention of adding it to the public space along the waterfront.
Jay LaChance, a spokesman for the MDC, consulted with the commission's general counsel and said he was prohibited from commenting on the MDC's plans for the site due to pending litigation, offering no timeline for either litigation or use of the site.