Editorial: Don’t build a boring parking garage

Thursday, May 18, 2017

The state, both its employees and its legislators, clearly needs more parking spaces and office space on the historic downtown campus. We emphasize the word “historic.”

The State House was completed in 1819 and is the oldest such building in the nation still in use for its original purpose. The nearby State Library is the first state library in the nation. Its current home was built with Concord granite in 1895. The New Hampshire Historical Society, an architectural masterpiece also built with Concord granite, opened in 1911. The Legislative Office Building, once Concord’s post office, was built in 1882, and it too is a gem.

Which brings us to the proposal to build a large parking garage on what is now the parking lot diagonally across from the police station.

Mayor Jim Bouley and Concord developer Steve Duprey are right. The site, clearly visible from Concord’s City Hall, is far too important to build anything run-of-the-mill. A standard, rectangular garage would be just that. The state, led to the degree it can be by Concord’s legislative delegation, should adopt some version of the Duprey and Bouley’s plan. That calls for tearing down the existing home of the state’s justice department. It’s a perfectly pleasant building put up by the then New Hampshire Savings Bank in 1958. That bank, and six others in New Hampshire, failed in 1991 in the aftermath of the collapse of the state’s last great real estate bubble. The building is expendable.

Whatever lawmakers do, they should not consider the buildings in the state office park on Hazen Drive and their ilk as a model. They are inoffensive and serviceable, albeit rabbit warrens inside, but as memorable as a fast-food meal. For inspiration, look instead to the 1975 Legislative Office Building addition designed by the late Concord-based architect Dick Dudley of Dudley, Walsh and Moyer. Dudley, who designed the visitors center atop Mount Washington, won an award for his design of the annex.

Whatever goes up on that site should complement and pay tribute to the buildings on the existing campus. It should be designed to last not for decades but centuries. That won’t be cheap. But great public buildings belong to all of us, speak for all of us, project who we are and what we value to the world.

The Legislature also wants to rehabilitate the Storrs Street state garage that overhangs that road. It was a solution to a then-legislative parking problem supported by the late Concord mayor Martin Gross in order to help preserve the city’s historic downtown. It has served the state well but needs both refurbishing and a facelift to make what’s seen daily by thousands of shoppers more attractive.

And while they’re at it, how about boxing in the I-beams supporting the garage so they no longer serve as a pigeon bombing range.