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Melnea A. Cass Recreational Complex to reopen in June

Improvements to facility slated for this summer

Mandile Mpofu
Melnea A. Cass Recreational Complex to reopen in June
Melnea A. Cass Recreational Complex PHOTO: Courtesy of HKT Architects

After closing in January for use as a shelter, the Melnea A. Cass Recreational Complex in Roxbury is set to reopen this summer with significant upgrades on the horizon.

The state-run center, operated by the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation, closed to the public and sports programs using its facilities to make room for homeless families, including migrants.

At the end of April, the shelter housed 84 families, 281 people, a spokesperson for the state said. If they are not re-housed, the families will be moved to other state-run safety-net sites by the end of May, including a shelter in Chelsea, after which the complex will be turned over to DCR once again on June 1 as the department prepares to make upgrades to the facility.

“The Cass center has served as an important resource for the Roxbury community for more than 50 years — bringing families, friends and neighbors together and connecting them with opportunities for recreation,” a DCR spokesperson said. “We appreciate the community sharing this valued facility with families in need and we are continuing our ongoing work to make improvements to the center for the long-term benefit of Roxbury families and children.”

When the state announced in January that the Cass would be used as a temporary shelter for homeless families and migrants, the move drew backlash from neighbors, some of whom felt the state had carried out the decision without community input.

In an April 29 public meeting, DCR outlined its plans to upgrade the facility and invited community feedback.

The enhancement project will be completed in three phases. The first phase would see improvements to the swimming pool and bathrooms, as well as the installation of shade shelters. The swimming pool is slated to open on June 22 as usual.

The second phase would include an overhaul of the Cass arena’s floor and upgrades to athletic equipment and sound system. As such, the arena will be closed for the summer  and will reopen no later than Labor Day.

The final phase would include the installation of rooftop solar panels and work on the pool bathhouse lobby.

Some said they felt the shelter at the Cass was another example of the Roxbury community being saddled with a burden it could not undertake but acknowledged that the families needed help.

In a February interview with the Bay State Banner, Boston City Councilor Tania Fernandes Anderson said she hoped lawmakers would use the opportunity to allocate resources to Roxbury.

In the April 29 meeting, Fernandes Anderson said she was “very happy that we are here at this point following the governor’s promise to deliver not only a redeveloped or revitalized Melnea Cass but also to deliver it back to…the community.”

The state will also soon close other temporary housing projects. A cottage village erected in 2022 near the Lemuel Shattuck Hospital in Roxbury to house those displaced after the closure of the tent encampment on “Mass and Cass” will shutter sometime this summer, WBUR reported.

Officials from the state’s Department of Public Health said the closures were the result of the funds from the COVID-era federal American Rescue Plan Act expiring in July, the Boston Globe reported.

When the Cass closed in January, sports teams with permits to use the recreational complex were relocated to other facilities. Nonprofit sports team Boston United Track & Cross Country Club, for example, was relocated to the Reggie Lewis Track and Athletics Center, where they have been for the past four months.

The state’s spokesperson said it intends to work with relocated teams to welcome those with permits for the fall season, while those who choose to stay at the facilities they were relocated to will have to make their own arrangements.

“It’s taken a lot for us to get here. I do think that it’s sad but appropriate that we celebrate the situation where government is doing what they say they’re going to do,” said former Sen. Dianne Wilkerson, now with Friends of the Cass.

The planned upgrades to the Cass are a welcome step that some say are long overdue.

“The improvements have been warranted for years. Folks have always been requesting these improvements. I am thankful that what promises that were made were actually fulfilled,” said Rev. Willie Bodrick II of Twelfth Baptist Church in Roxbury. He added that the church will continue to support migrant families and all those in need as it has done in the past.

“Most importantly, I just want to celebrate this community who stepped up in the midst of a crisis, a community that has been heavy-laden with so many issues, and at times has not always had promises fulfilled to it,” he said. “So I think a lot of credit and kudos should be given to this Roxbury community who stepped up, who provided resources, who engaged, and though there were varying perspectives, stood in the gap in a time of need.”

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