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The next chapter of the Save the Dance Hall

We left off in December with lots of support from the City Council for saving the dance hall as described here.

After the late december meeting I and several others talked to councillors about getting an official action early in the year. At the first meeting of the new council in January an order was passed unanimously for the Mayor to conduct a RoundTable meeting on the subject of the youth center / dance hall and that representatives from the dancers were to be involved. RoundTables are in lieu of regular council meetings and have councillors and city employees sitting around a square table and they actually sometimes talk to each other instead of speechifying - these meetings are not televised and the public cannot comment during the normal public comment period.

Last night was this meeting; I was the official representative of the Contra Dancers and there was a rep from the Tango dancers and the Swing dancers also.

The Architects (Cambridge 7, a well known firm with a good reputation) presented four alternatives. Two were to preserve the old building with and without the dance space and two were to construct a brand new building with and without the dance space. They are calling the dance space the Community/Arts center and it would be used for many purposes - daytime for the youth center and/or recreation department activities. It will have a separate entrance from the youth center although there would be a securable internal connection. (This project is complicated by the fact that there will also be a VFW post in the building and it would also have a separate entrance).

The plan that seemed to be the consensus of the meeting was to build a new building and include a dance space. The problem with preservation is that there are structural and site constraint problems. The structural problems include the dance floor structure itself. The resulting dance space would have had a 12 ft ceiling - too low in my opinion (note the crimson article about what happened to me about this) and had too small a lobby. The new building approach should yield a good dance hall about the size of the current one and be a better youth center as well.

The city manager who has been opposed to the extra expense seems to have given in to the city council on this matter so I think the meta battle has been won. But as I said in an earlier email to the dance planning group: It's not over until the fat lady dances. Several of the councillors keep giving credit to the dancers to the way we have gone about this which should result in a better youth center as well as allowing the dancers to return.

I talked to the lead architect after the meeting about floor and pointed out some of the flaws in the Springstep floor and lighting (I had email conversations with its architects last week) where these dances have migrated; he seemed well aware of the problems there.

We have been assured that the dancers will be included in the planning process and I confirmed this with the Deputy City manager although it will clearly be quite controlled.

The next steps for the city are to nail down the decision that this alternative is to be officially chosen (I talked to the councillor who is shepherding this and he said he'd put in an order for that) and to do some work on determining more about what the youth center program will be and what are its detailed space needs. There is considerable dissatisfaction with the current youth center programs (there are 5 other youth centers in the city) which are very basketball oriented and do not attract a wide spectrum of kids - esp. girls.

This is what was reported in the Harvard Crimson this morning; the Cambridge Chronicle comes out on Thursday and I spent some time on the phone today with the reporter.