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Ex-Dame School walls come down on Concord Community Center project

  • The design for the new Concord Community Center includes renovation of the former Dame School's 1960s wing as well as an additional 16,000 square feet, bringing the center's total size to 31,000 square feet. The building project is expected to be completed in June 2018. —Courtesy

  • The design for the new Concord Community Center includes renovation of the former Dame School’s 1960s wing as well as an additional 16,000 square feet, bringing the center’s total size to 31,000 square feet. The building project is expected to be completed in June 2018. Courtesy

  • Workers stand in a trench where a portion of the former Dame School once stood on Canterbury Road in Concord on Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2017, as work on a new Concord Community Center continues. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Excavation crews prepare the site of the former Dame School on Canterbury Road for the additions that will transform the property into an updated Community Center for Concord on Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2017. A large portion of the building has been demolished and the remaining wing was gutted. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Excavation crews prepare the site of the former Dame School on Canterbury Road on Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2017, for the additions that will transform the property into an updated Community Center for Concord. A large portion of the building has been demolished and the remaining wing was gutted. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)



Monitor staff
Wednesday, August 30, 2017

The walls are coming down on the Concord Community Center project.

Specifically, the walls of the 1977 Heights Gym of the former Dame School were razed to the ground this week, completing the demolition of any parts of the school that will not be integrated into the $7.6 million community center’s final design.

What remains is a portion dubbed the “1960s wing,” which includes the former school’s cafeteria. But although distinctive aspects of the old wing, like exposed tongue-and-groove beams, will remain, don’t let the Woodstock-era name fool you – the rest of the former school has been gutted, allowing for modern bathrooms, lighting, windows and flooring.

“It will basically look like a repurposed school, but you won’t see any tie dye or lava lamps,” said Matt Walsh, the city’s director of redevelopment, downtown services and special projects. The building’s former classrooms will be used for programming, he noted.

Demolition of the Gamble property, a single-family residence located at the corner of Canterbury and Pembroke Streets, has also been completed, Walsh said. The city is slated to begin weeks of foundation and utility work on the new portion of the building this week.

The renovation and new construction will bring the center’s footprint to 31,000 square feet and will add a high school-sized gymnasium, a new kitchen and additional lobby space where the rest of the Dame School use to be, Walsh said. One of the program rooms will also offer library services on a part-time basis.

The project is more than a decade in the making and has gone through several iterations. A feasibility study for a multigenerational community center was conducted in 2004, and the city was initially considering Keach Park as a location.

However, the city decided to pursue a new strategy to acquire the Dame School for the project after the Concord School District announced its plan to consolidate its elementary schools in 2004. That plan included closing the Dame School and replacing it with Mill Brook elementary school, which opened in 2013.

The city commissioned another feasibility study in 2011, according to a report Walsh put together in March 2016. That plan recommended an 80,000-square-foot facility with features such as a turf field and a walking track. It also recommended the closure of the East Concord Community Center and West Street Ward House, where several recreational programs the city provides currently take place.

The city administration ultimately presented 13 different options to the City Council by 2015, but several aspects of the plans were rejected due to cost, Walsh said. The most expensive proposal, he said, would have been in the $18 million range.

The proposal also does not include space for Concord TV, which is based out of Concord High School and previously had a satellite office at the Dame School. The cost estimates to build that studio came in between $620,000 and $1.1 million, and rent was estimated to be as high as $84,000 per year, according to Monitor archives.

The City Council initially approved a $6.5 million design in April 2016. The project initially had an overall price tag of $7.1 million, including design and construction.

However, the council approved a $515,000 appropriation, or an increase of about 7.2 percent, to the project earlier this year, after Milestone Engineering and Construction provided an updated guaranteed maximum price on April 4.

The escalation in cost was driven by a “very strong economy, tight labor market, and robust real estate market, which, in combination, have resulted in exceptionally strong demand for contractors and trades people not seen since the start of the Great Recession nearly a decade ago,” according to an April 6 report Walsh wrote.

Work on the Community Center project began in June, Walsh said. The project is expected to be complete by June 2018.

(Caitlin Andrews can be reached at 369-3309, candrews@cmonitor.com or on Twitter at @ActualCAndrews.)