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Our Towns: New amphitheater takes shape in Warner

  • Peter Ladd works to fit a piece of the timber frame performance stage in place behind the Main Street Bookends in Warner on Saturday, May 18, 2013. The drill was not used in construction of the piece. The performance space is part of a larger park and vision of Jim Mitchell, one of the owners of the bookstore who passed away of a heart attack in 2008. To continue his vision, members of the community came together to build the Jim Mitchell Community Park.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor Staff)

    Peter Ladd works to fit a piece of the timber frame performance stage in place behind the Main Street Bookends in Warner on Saturday, May 18, 2013. The drill was not used in construction of the piece. The performance space is part of a larger park and vision of Jim Mitchell, one of the owners of the bookstore who passed away of a heart attack in 2008. To continue his vision, members of the community came together to build the Jim Mitchell Community Park.

    (JOHN TULLY / Monitor Staff)

  • Peter Ladd, a timber framer, watches 'the moment of truth' as a large front-piece of a performance stage is lowered into place behind the Main Street Bookends in Warner on Saturday, May 18, 2013.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor Staff)

    Peter Ladd, a timber framer, watches 'the moment of truth' as a large front-piece of a performance stage is lowered into place behind the Main Street Bookends in Warner on Saturday, May 18, 2013.

    (JOHN TULLY / Monitor Staff)

  • Peter Ladd led a team of builders including Ted Blachly and his son Taylor, Bob Shoemaker, Sean Carroll, David Sullivan, and Charlie Betz to assemble a timber frame performance stage behind the Main Street Bookends in Warner on Saturday, May 18, 2013. The performance space is part of a larger park and vision of Jim Mitchell, one of the owners of the bookstore who passed away of a heart attack in 2008. To continue his vision, members of the community came together to build the Jim Mitchell Community Park.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor Staff)

    Peter Ladd led a team of builders including Ted Blachly and his son Taylor, Bob Shoemaker, Sean Carroll, David Sullivan, and Charlie Betz to assemble a timber frame performance stage behind the Main Street Bookends in Warner on Saturday, May 18, 2013. The performance space is part of a larger park and vision of Jim Mitchell, one of the owners of the bookstore who passed away of a heart attack in 2008. To continue his vision, members of the community came together to build the Jim Mitchell Community Park.

    (JOHN TULLY / Monitor Staff)

  • Peter Ladd works to fit a piece of the timber frame performance stage in place behind the Main Street Bookends in Warner on Saturday, May 18, 2013. The drill was not used in construction of the piece. The performance space is part of a larger park and vision of Jim Mitchell, one of the owners of the bookstore who passed away of a heart attack in 2008. To continue his vision, members of the community came together to build the Jim Mitchell Community Park.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor Staff)
  • Peter Ladd, a timber framer, watches 'the moment of truth' as a large front-piece of a performance stage is lowered into place behind the Main Street Bookends in Warner on Saturday, May 18, 2013.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor Staff)
  • Peter Ladd led a team of builders including Ted Blachly and his son Taylor, Bob Shoemaker, Sean Carroll, David Sullivan, and Charlie Betz to assemble a timber frame performance stage behind the Main Street Bookends in Warner on Saturday, May 18, 2013. The performance space is part of a larger park and vision of Jim Mitchell, one of the owners of the bookstore who passed away of a heart attack in 2008. To continue his vision, members of the community came together to build the Jim Mitchell Community Park.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor Staff)

Jim Mitchell, one of the founders of MainStreet BookEnds of Warner, used to envision a park by the bookstore where the store’s Friday night events featuring authors, musicians and artists could spill outside three seasons of the year.

Although he died before he could see his dreams reach fruition, the town will soon gain an outdoor stage and grassy amphitheater in Mitchell’s memory when the second phase of the Jim Mitchell Community Park is completed.

“He had a huge influence here in town, and it’s good to know his influence continues,” Katharine Nevins, Mitchell’s sister, said. “This park is what he wanted.”

Nevins, who co-founded MainStreet BookEnds with Mitchell and her husband, Neil, said her brother designed plans for the park before he died of a heart attack in 2008. The pocket park is located off Main Street in Warner’s central village, between the bookstore and Pillsbury Free Library.

MainStreet Warner Inc., the nonprofit organization founded by Mitchell and others in 2000, began raising funds to implement Mitchell’s plans soon after his death. Nevins said the town rallied behind the effort immediately, and the nonprofit received numerous donations, large and small, which helped to raise the $140,000 that has been collected for the project thus far.

During the 2010 Warner Fall Foliage Festival, the park opened after its first phase was completed. The park includes a stone terrace, several cedar benches and the Nancy Sibley Wilkins Heritage Walkway, a pathway at the entrance to the park named for a town philanthropist. The walkway is constructed of bricks that donors were able to purchase and inscribe.

During the 2013 Warner Fall Foliage Festival this October, the stage and amphitheater will be employed for the first time.

“It will be the only three- to four-hundred-person venue around here, so we will be able to bring performances to this area of New Hampshire,” Nevins said. “It will make it possible for us to host
theater, music, art, any kind of production.”

But the park’s capacity is not its most rare characteristic. The Jim Mitchell Community Park is the only self-sustaining park and amphitheater in the Northeast, Nevins said. Solar panels above the amphitheater power MainStreet BookEnds, and will power the stage as well. Additionally, the park will section off a parcel of land for a garden, and it will
be irrigated using collected rainwater.

Nevins said MainStreet Warner Inc. plans to involve schoolchildren in keeping the park “green” and teaching them about sustainability.

Although the terraced amphitheater built into the
hillside of the park is finished, the final aspects of the
stage itself are still being completed by the volunteer build team.

Peter Ladd, Bob Shoemaker and Charlie Betz are three Warner residents who have donated copious amounts of time and energy into constructing the stage over the past year. The three have headed the effort to build the post-and-beam stage using a unique 13th-century barn design that employs what’s known as raised-bottom chord trusses.

The design involves an extremely complex frame and is rarely used in construction anymore, but Ladd said the result will be a substantive timber-frame building that leaves a legacy for future generations.

“It takes a lot of hard labor and a lot of time,” he said. “I’m starting to see why people don’t build this way anymore.”

Throughout the complicated design and measurement process, the volunteers did not hire any engineers or architects to assist them. Even though the three lead builders work in carpentry, Ladd said the project has stretched their knowledge and abilities extensively.

“It’s just a bunch of guys making their best guess . . . and showing what a bunch of
local people can do,” he said. “Everyone is putting in their bit of ideas and advice and experience. It’s a great collaborative building with human capital.”

All three men hold full-time jobs, which they have balanced with spending about two days per week working on the community park stage with a handful of other volunteers.

“We just made the commitment and fit it in,” Betz said. “The people we work for have been patient with our schedules, and we made the time.”

In the past few weeks, the builders have brought the
timbers they built off-site to the park and have installed the trusses. Before the stage
is finished, they need to
place the roof and close its side walls.

Despite the progress, Nevins said the project is
about $20,000 short of the amount necessary for its completion, and the nonprofit is “going all out” trying to raise the money.

But once the funds are secured and the project is completed, Warner will gain an incredible asset, Ladd said.

“I think it’s really wonderful for the community,” Ladd said. “I’m really looking forward to its opening. The fact that it will be open and accessible to the kids or anybody. . . . it’s a resource that will keep the town strong.”

(Mel Flanagan can be reached at 369-3321 or mflanagan@cmonitor.com.)

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