Cloudy
48°
Cloudy
Hi 63° | Lo 42°

Proposed arts center at former Rumford School receives support from Concord residents

  • Manchester developer Brian Thibeault (right) answers questions from residents during a neighborhood forum regarding his proposed project at the Rumford School in Concord on Wednesday evening, April 2, 2014. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Manchester developer Brian Thibeault (right) answers questions from residents during a neighborhood forum regarding his proposed project at the Rumford School in Concord on Wednesday evening, April 2, 2014.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Late evening sun trickles into a classroom at the Rumford School on Wednesday evening, April 2, 2014. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Late evening sun trickles into a classroom at the Rumford School on Wednesday evening, April 2, 2014.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Pete Fernandes, a resident in Concord's South End, raises his hand to ask Manchester developer Brian Thibeault during a neighborhood forum with the Concord School Board and the developer on Wednesday evening at the Rumford School. The forum was organized to address the development of the Rumford School building into an arts center. Fernandes was concerned with the off-hours traffic that it might attract. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Pete Fernandes, a resident in Concord's South End, raises his hand to ask Manchester developer Brian Thibeault during a neighborhood forum with the Concord School Board and the developer on Wednesday evening at the Rumford School. The forum was organized to address the development of the Rumford School building into an arts center. Fernandes was concerned with the off-hours traffic that it might attract.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • The keys to doors at the Rumford School sit on what used to be the front desk at the main office on Wednesday evening, April 2, 2014. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    The keys to doors at the Rumford School sit on what used to be the front desk at the main office on Wednesday evening, April 2, 2014.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Manchester developer Brian Thibeault answers questions from residents during a neighborhood forum regarding his proposed project at the Rumford School in Concord on Wednesday evening, April 2, 2014. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Manchester developer Brian Thibeault answers questions from residents during a neighborhood forum regarding his proposed project at the Rumford School in Concord on Wednesday evening, April 2, 2014.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Manchester developer Brian Thibeault (right) answers questions from residents during a neighborhood forum regarding his proposed project at the Rumford School in Concord on Wednesday evening, April 2, 2014. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • Late evening sun trickles into a classroom at the Rumford School on Wednesday evening, April 2, 2014. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • Pete Fernandes, a resident in Concord's South End, raises his hand to ask Manchester developer Brian Thibeault during a neighborhood forum with the Concord School Board and the developer on Wednesday evening at the Rumford School. The forum was organized to address the development of the Rumford School building into an arts center. Fernandes was concerned with the off-hours traffic that it might attract. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • The keys to doors at the Rumford School sit on what used to be the front desk at the main office on Wednesday evening, April 2, 2014. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • Manchester developer Brian Thibeault answers questions from residents during a neighborhood forum regarding his proposed project at the Rumford School in Concord on Wednesday evening, April 2, 2014. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

A proposed creative arts center in Concord’s South End could go a long way in turning the neighborhood into the city’s creative hub.

This was the shared hope of most residents who attended a meeting last night to learn about the proposed use of the former Rumford School building at 40 Thorndike St.

Manchester-based developer Brian Thibeault has plans to open a for-profit arts center to house dance and ballet space, artist studio rentals, a learning center and community events.

Residents spoke overwhelmingly in favor of the plan.

“In New York there was SoHo, and I don’t see why we couldn’t have SoCo,” Bob Sanders said. The Rumford Street center could link the neighborhood to the city’s arts scene and build on the momentum of the nearby Capitol Center for the Arts. “I don’t think people think of this neighborhood as part of that. This would put it on the map,” he said.

The school district has entered into a sales agreement to sell the 25,000-square-foot brick building to Thibeault for $425,000. The school was put on the market after the district consolidated its elementary schools several years ago.

If the school board approves the sales agreement Monday, Thibeault can proceed with inspecting the building and the property and will seek relief from the zoning board to operate the arts center in the residential area.

The center could open as early as this summer.

Echoing the support of other board members, school board President Clint Cogswell spoke in support of the proposal.

“I hope this will be nothing but an enormous plus for the neighborhood,” he said.

When the school board opted to sell the empty schools, it developed a list of objectives and goals for reviewing potential buyers. The buyer would have to keep the building’s appearance and use consistent with the neighborhood, protect its historical features and propose a use that had public support.

The board also preferred a plan that would get the building on the city’s tax roll, said school board Vice President Jennifer Patterson. “We think that this proposal really seems to meet a lot of those criteria,” she said.

The Rumford School plans are largely based on Thibeault’s Pawtucket Armory Center for the Arts in Rhode Island. After purchasing the 48,000-square-foot building out of bankruptcy in 2011, Thibeault spent thousands renovating it and attracting artists, dance groups and a theater as anchor tenants.

The Pawtucket center has yet to turn a profit, but it has developed into a hive of activity similar to what Grove Street resident Eric Williams sees as lacking in the South End.

“One of the things that has been overlooked in the discussions about redeveloping Main Street has been the connection to neighborhoods, particularly this neighborhood,” Williams said.

As the arts center’s popularity has increased, so has parking pressure, said Monroe Street resident Lisa Montgomery. “Since the Capitol Center got popular, everyone comes up and parks further away from it,” she said.

The school has 50 parking spaces, and Thibeault plans to buy an adjacent lot to use for additional parking if needed.

Questions about parking, pedestrian traffic and hours of operation will be difficult to answer until the majority of tenants for the new center are secured, Thibeault said.

The uncertainty concerned resident Pete Fernandes. “I don’t want people walking up and down the street at 3 a.m. in the neighborhood,” he said. “You have to be reasonable. You can’t just say, ‘We want to stay open all night long.’ ”

Speaking generally, Thibeault said he expects most operations to happen during regular business hours, but a dance or yoga studio would likely have night classes, and if an artist has studio space in the building, they won’t be barred from using it whenever they need to.

He plans to complete minor renovations in the building’s common areas, but said tenants will have the opportunity to paint and set up their spaces the way they want.

“You’re painting a blank canvas in all these rooms, and you’re waiting for folks to come in. That’s the beauty of having the arts here,” board member Oliver Spencer said.

Local painter Melissa Miller questioned whether the building would provide much-needed affordable studio space for local artists. In Pawtucket, having a group of anchor tenants has allowed the center to offer low-cost studio space to artists, Thibeault said.

“It’s not really about the money in the sense we want to get people in here. We want to get artists in here,” he said. “The good thing (in Rhode Island) is we have a couple of bigger anchors in the building that take care of a lot of the costs in the building.”

(Iain Wilson can be reached at 369-3313 or iwilson@cmonitor.com.)

Legacy Comments0
There are no comments yet. Be the first!
Post a Comment

You must be registered to comment on stories. Click here to register.