DEVENS -- The Devens Enterprise Commission discussed disposal of the historic Red Cross building and presented a new study under way to promote a healthy community design.
The former Red Cross building at 176 Jackson Road is owned by Mass Development. The agency requested comments from the commission on whether the building can be disposed of.
Members discussed the possibility of renovating the building but that it "may very well cost as much as building a new building," DEC Director Peter Lowitt said.
Environmental planner Neil Angus said he has already reached out to the Red Cross in Boston to see what they would like to see happen to the building, but there hasn't been a response.
The Devens Museum is also being consulted on what they would like to see happen to the property of about 5,000 square feet.
"Could the (military or Red Cross) get any federal grants to bring it back to where it was?" Commissioner Paul Routhier asked.
"No. The days of grants for that have gone by the wayside, unfortunately," Lowitt responded.
The former Red Cross building was one of the first Red Cross buildings to be integrated into a military base in the United States. The DEC members are worried that if they approve the demolition, historical groups may be upset with the decision.
Lowitt proposed that the commission send the Red Cross in Boston a letter stating that this building will be demolished if they do not respond saying they want the building.
"I would like the letter to be phrased in a way that if we don't hear from the Red Cross in a certain amount of time, that they are not interested in preserving this building," Commissioner James DeZutter said.
"No answer is an answer," Commissioner John Oelfke agreed.
The DEC hosted a presentation by an intern from Harvard University studying landscape architecture. Sang Cho is working with a Geographic Information System (GIS) to explain to the commission how to better design the Devens community.
Lowitt introduced the theory behind the study.
"One of the trends in planning today is to link public health to the planning and design of a community," Lowitt said. "This is done by analyzing obesity rates, traffic-related injuries, lack of food consumption, access to healthy food and social equity (social spaces, green areas and recreational areas) in a community."
Lowitt described Devens as a "live, work, play community" full of recreational activities, businesses and municipal services. He stressed the importance of making sure the community is tied together to ensure walkability.
"We are sort of introducing this as a theme we would like to work with," Lowitt said of the healthy community design.
"There are many studies suggesting that socio-economic factors affect the community and also, community resources help to diversify a community," Cho said. "Devens has the community resources to allow the surrounding towns to participate."
Lowitt said using this data will help the commission with design aspects they would like to integrate within the next year.
"One observation I have is that with Devens being the center of a lot of activity, this type of study would have a really great opportunity to bring the communities together with access to Devens," Commissioner Duncan Chapman said.
Members talked of constructing a bike path connecting all surrounding communities for greater accessibility.
"Devens was designed to be isolated, and now we are planning a reconnection (with the other towns)," Angus said.
As part of an internship with DEC, Cho will spend his time at Harvard University working with the GIS system to explain how some design plans for Devens and surrounding areas may work better than others.
DEC Chairman William Marshall ended the meeting by proclaiming October Community Planning Month.
"Now, therefore, be it resolved that, the month of October 2013 is hereby designated as Community Planning Month in Devens, Mass. in conjunction with the celebration of National Community Planning Month," Marshall said.
The commission is working to update its website for easy access by the community with more organization.