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Articles for New London community center cut from town warrant

Two articles aimed at establishing a community center at the former high school on New London’s Main Street have been pulled from next month’s town meeting warrant.

David Kidder, president of the New London Community Center Board, said Monday that the board of selectmen went along with the community center board’s recommendation and pulled the warrant articles because of growing opposition in town.

Kidder said the board did not want to put forward a proposal that would be divisive, even if it ultimately was approved.

“It was the consensus of the board it had to be what everyone wanted,” Kidder said. “A slam dunk.”

Instead, some residents had begun to question the cost estimates and thought it may end up costing taxpayers more than projected, he said.

“It was a vocal minority that was getting a little more vocal,” Kidder said.

The town’s budget committee voted 6-3 against placing the articles on the warrant.

Casey Bluso, secretary for the community center board, said its mission from the start was to advance a project that would bring the community together and wouldn’t be controversial.

“If it were going to be divisive, it wouldn’t be worth it,” Bluso said Monday night.

Kearsarge Regional School Board Chairman Dan Wolf of Newbury said Monday night he was informed by the selectmen last week that the articles would not appear on the warrant, but said school board members have not had a chance to discuss the development.

“We’d like to see it kept as a usable building, but if we can’t find a user for it, we will have to explore all options,” Wolf said.

Kidder and Bluso said the concern from some residents was that should the community center not be able to meet its fundraising obligations, a greater cost would fall back on taxpayers.

The community center board had proposed a public/private partnership with the town. The town would have leased the building and operated the community center while the board would raise money from private sources and secure grants to pay for a three-phase renovation.

The selectmen voted March 3 to place the two articles on the warrant.

The first article was for a proposed lease on the 1941 building with the owner, the Kearsarge Regional School District; the second article would appropriate $75,000 for annual operating expenses.

At last year’s town meeting, voters approved giving $10,000 to the school district, which must maintain the building, in exchange for the district agreeing not to put it up for sale.

“It is a perfect building for a community center,” Kidder said.

After last year’s town meeting vote, the community center board was established, and it submitted a report to the board of selectmen Jan. 13 with a proposal for renovating the building.

“A New London Community Center in the 1941 building would bring people from all walks of life together, provide much needed meeting and activity space for many of our groups and organizations, and would add to the vitality of the downtown area,” Kidder said in the report to selectmen.

Phase one of the renovation – estimated to cost $150,000 – would have included a large multipurpose room and activity room, two conference rooms and offices for the town recreation department. Phase two – estimated at $750,000 – would have overhauled the first floor and restored the stage and auditorium/gymnasium. The third phase envisioned elevators and renovations to the second floor, though no cost estimates were developed.

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