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Bessie Rowell Community Center turns former school into healthy hub in Franklin

  • From left: Zachary McKerley, 9, Allison Andrews, 9, and Rose Franson, 7, read during homework and reading time at the after school program at the former Bessie Rowell School in Franklin on Tuesday, April 15, 2014. The Bessie Rowell Community Center is now home to multiple organizations that help Franklin residents of all generations live healthier lives.<br/><br/>(ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)

    From left: Zachary McKerley, 9, Allison Andrews, 9, and Rose Franson, 7, read during homework and reading time at the after school program at the former Bessie Rowell School in Franklin on Tuesday, April 15, 2014. The Bessie Rowell Community Center is now home to multiple organizations that help Franklin residents of all generations live healthier lives.

    (ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)

  • Taegen Doscher (left) and Logan Emery, both 10, watch as Anne Dunn shows them how much the rice they cooked expanded during their last cooking class through Cooking Matters for teens at the former Bessie Rowell School in Franklin on Tuesday, April 15, 2014. The Bessie Rowell Community Center is now home to multiple organizations that help Franklin residents of all generations live healthier lives.  Anne Dunn works with Nutrition Connections out of the UNH Cooperative Extension. <br/><br/>(ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)<br/>

    Taegen Doscher (left) and Logan Emery, both 10, watch as Anne Dunn shows them how much the rice they cooked expanded during their last cooking class through Cooking Matters for teens at the former Bessie Rowell School in Franklin on Tuesday, April 15, 2014. The Bessie Rowell Community Center is now home to multiple organizations that help Franklin residents of all generations live healthier lives. Anne Dunn works with Nutrition Connections out of the UNH Cooperative Extension.

    (ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)

  • Emma Pellarin, 6, watches as twin brothers Arom (middle) and Jacoby Trumble, 6, hug Jen Creasey, the after school coordinator, at the former Bessie Rowell School in Franklin on Tuesday, April 15, 2014. The Bessie Rowell Community Center is now home to multiple organizations that help Franklin residents of all generations live healthier lives.<br/><br/>(ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)

    Emma Pellarin, 6, watches as twin brothers Arom (middle) and Jacoby Trumble, 6, hug Jen Creasey, the after school coordinator, at the former Bessie Rowell School in Franklin on Tuesday, April 15, 2014. The Bessie Rowell Community Center is now home to multiple organizations that help Franklin residents of all generations live healthier lives.

    (ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)

  • Christopher Ingham (middle), 5, makes a face as fellow kindergarteners (from left) Jacoby Trumble, 6, Emma Pellerin, 6, and EJ Fletcher, 5, sharpen their pencils at the after school program at the former Bessie Rowell School in Franklin on Tuesday, April 15, 2014.  The Bessie Rowell Community Center is now home to multiple organizations that help Franklin residents of all generations live healthier lives.<br/><br/>(ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)<br/>

    Christopher Ingham (middle), 5, makes a face as fellow kindergarteners (from left) Jacoby Trumble, 6, Emma Pellerin, 6, and EJ Fletcher, 5, sharpen their pencils at the after school program at the former Bessie Rowell School in Franklin on Tuesday, April 15, 2014. The Bessie Rowell Community Center is now home to multiple organizations that help Franklin residents of all generations live healthier lives.

    (ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)

  • Alexa Jenkins, 10, learns to play guitar at a class at the former Bessie Rowell School in Franklin on Tuesday, April 15, 2014. The Bessie Rowell Community Center is now home to multiple organizations that help Franklin residents of all generations live healthier lives.<br/><br/>(ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)

    Alexa Jenkins, 10, learns to play guitar at a class at the former Bessie Rowell School in Franklin on Tuesday, April 15, 2014. The Bessie Rowell Community Center is now home to multiple organizations that help Franklin residents of all generations live healthier lives.

    (ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)

  • From left: Zachary McKerley, 9, Allison Andrews, 9, and Rose Franson, 7, read during homework and reading time at the after school program at the former Bessie Rowell School in Franklin on Tuesday, April 15, 2014. The Bessie Rowell Community Center is now home to multiple organizations that help Franklin residents of all generations live healthier lives.<br/><br/>(ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)
  • Taegen Doscher (left) and Logan Emery, both 10, watch as Anne Dunn shows them how much the rice they cooked expanded during their last cooking class through Cooking Matters for teens at the former Bessie Rowell School in Franklin on Tuesday, April 15, 2014. The Bessie Rowell Community Center is now home to multiple organizations that help Franklin residents of all generations live healthier lives.  Anne Dunn works with Nutrition Connections out of the UNH Cooperative Extension. <br/><br/>(ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)<br/>
  • Emma Pellarin, 6, watches as twin brothers Arom (middle) and Jacoby Trumble, 6, hug Jen Creasey, the after school coordinator, at the former Bessie Rowell School in Franklin on Tuesday, April 15, 2014. The Bessie Rowell Community Center is now home to multiple organizations that help Franklin residents of all generations live healthier lives.<br/><br/>(ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)
  • Christopher Ingham (middle), 5, makes a face as fellow kindergarteners (from left) Jacoby Trumble, 6, Emma Pellerin, 6, and EJ Fletcher, 5, sharpen their pencils at the after school program at the former Bessie Rowell School in Franklin on Tuesday, April 15, 2014.  The Bessie Rowell Community Center is now home to multiple organizations that help Franklin residents of all generations live healthier lives.<br/><br/>(ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)<br/>
  • Alexa Jenkins, 10, learns to play guitar at a class at the former Bessie Rowell School in Franklin on Tuesday, April 15, 2014. The Bessie Rowell Community Center is now home to multiple organizations that help Franklin residents of all generations live healthier lives.<br/><br/>(ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)

Carrie Matthews held out the bowl, offering some of the spicy roasted chick peas she was crunching on.

“It’s all about trying new things,” she said, giving the bowl an encouraging shake.

Krystle Alpers reached out and grabbed one. She’s not one to shy away from new things.

Alpers, Franklin’s director of parks and recreation, is behind a whole lot of new things these days at the former Bessie Rowell School. She led the charge to turn the building, closed by the district in 2011 because of budget cuts, into a community center.

Her department moved in last March, and in the year since, she’s been joined by Matthews, assistant director of Tiny Twisters Day Care, and the city’s Head Start and Early Head Start programs. The Mayor’s Drug Task Force also has an office there, and the regional senior center will be moving in by September.

At first, she saw an opportunity for more space for her own department’s programming, Alpers said. In the Rowell center, she can run more than one class at a time.

To make the move financially feasible, she recruited the other organizations to share the space, thinking they’d be on their wings

and she’d be on hers, and if they wanted to use her gym space, that’d be fine with her.

“We had talked about collaborating before, but we didn’t have any specific plans,” she said. “This has given us an awesome opening for further collaboration, to show that we can still individualize our programs and improve in our own way, but also help each other.”

Enrollment in several of her physical activity programs, such as Irish step dancing, ballet and tap dancing, has gone up, as parents dropping off one child for day care see posters advertising things their other children could try.

She and the leaders of the other programs meet once a month and have adopted building-wide healthy living standards, promoting increased physical activity and healthy food options while limiting screen time.

They’ve brought in the Nutrition and Physical Activity Self-Assessment for Child Care – called NAP SACC – for assessment, training and evaluation. NAP SACC helps organizations develop standards for physical activity, nutrition, screen time, breastfeeding and more.

They’re going to build a new natural playground and a garden as part of the Early Sprouts seed-to-table program.

Tiny Twisters has cut juice out of its daily menu, choosing to offer kids only water or milk instead. The day care had a big green-foods celebration last month for St. Patrick’s Day, when every child who tried green grapes, kiwi, cucumber and green apples received applause and a hug, Matthews said.

“It’s great because now it’s not just me saying something, it’s something they see all over,” she said.

“The project has lived up to and exceeded my expectations,” City Manager Elizabeth Dragon said. “The concept initially was finding a reuse for a building. . . . There were a lot of challenges along the way, but Krystle has been a mediator. She’s really making it all happen on the ground.”

(Sarah Palermo can be reached at 369-3322 or spalermo@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @SPalermoNews.)

Legacy Comments1

We at the Community Development Finance Authority are very happy with the accomplishments of those organizations that have moved to the facility. It's a great example of re-purposing an empty building and providing space for effective service agencies. Franklin should be proud of the work done.

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