A community task force has been assigned to make recommendations on the future of the 50-year-old red-roofed barn in Grist Mill Park that has sparked a neighborhood debate.

Built about 1940, the 8,000-square-foot wood and concrete barn sits on the 71-acre Grist Mill Park, off Mount Vernon Memorial Highway (Route 235) midway between Woodlawn Plantation on Route 1 and the Mount Vernon estate at the end of the George Washington Memorial Parkway. The Fairfax County park consists of several playing fields for soccer and softball, a basketball court and a nature preserve.

Mount Vernon District Supervisor Gerald Hyland said that although he would like to see something done with the barn, "The community will decide how it will be used and I will not decide until they come to an agreement. If the people around the park don't want the barn to be used for specific purposes, then I will listen to them." Hyland will make his recommendation to the Fairfax County Park Authority board, which will make the final decision.

The issue of what to do with the barn, if anything, began in February when a group of residents met with Hyland to discuss the possibility of using the barn as a teen center, where high school students could congregate on weekend nights. The barn now is used for storage.

Since then, factions have developed among neighborhood groups, each voicing a desire to use the barn for different purposes.

Various community groups, such as the Mount Vernon Community Children's Theater and Mount Vernon Chamber Orchestra, have suggested the barn be turned into a performance hall. Other suggestions include a senior citizen center, an arts and crafts workshop or a square-dancing hall.

Among the suggestions, the teen center proposal has sparked the most opposition from Mount Vernon residents, who are concerned about traffic, pollution and vandalism. The teen center recommendation came from a group of parents in a neighborhood about 10 miles north of the park, in the Belle Haven community, just south of Route 95 on Fort Hunt Road.

But to residents of the Mount Vernon District, which has one of the highest concentrations of homeowners 55 or older in the county, a center for teenagers doesn't make much sense.

"Everyone keeps asking that question: Why a teen center here? And the answers we get are not logical," said Mount Vernon resident Brenda English, who organized opposition to the center.

Although no decision has been made on the barn's future, English said that she and other neighbors think their recommendations have been ignored. "All along it has smacked of a done deal and we have no idea why," she said.

"I'm disappointed that Hyland's office didn't call us and get us involved before all this momentum started building," said Pat Howe, president of the Mount Vernon Civic Association. "It caught us by surprise."

Lee Dressendorfer, a Belle Haven resident who heads the group proposing the teen center, said: "The teenagers need a place to go that is safe, where there aren't drugs and alcohol, and the barn is just great. Hopefully, we can get across a better understanding what the center is all about."

Dressendorfer's group, called "Friends of the Barn," first met with Hyland's office last February, and soon after, other groups showed interest in the barn. On Oct. 17, a community meeting and a task force of citizens was set up to study the proposals.

"From my perspective, the audience {at the meeting} was against doing anything," said Al Ferri, who lives near the park. "We want our questions answered before anything is done. We keep asking about traffic, pollution, potential vandalism and the cost {of restoring the barn}, but Hyland never answers us."

Estimates for the barn's restoration range from $1 million to $2.5 million. Ray Philipps, the Mount Vernon representative for the park authority, said the money would have to be raised privately because the authority has not allocated funds for the barn.