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Residents push for library branch, ConcordTV center in proposed Heights Community Center

From her spot against the wall in the former Dame School auditorium last night in Concord, Ward 9 City Councilor Candace Bouchard spoke up to address the crowd of more than 50 people.

“As a councilor, I would just like to know if there is a consensus, is this something that you think the city should move forward on?” Bouchard asked. “Do you see value in having this school repurposed to be a citywide facility addressing all ages and all types of needs from sports to preschool . . .”

The applause cut her off.

Residents gathered to hear a presentation and give input about a proposed community center on the Heights, planned as a renovation of the former school and scheduled for construction in late 2015. The fiscal year 2015 budget approved by the council earlier this month included $651,000 for the final phase of design for that project; the council would still have to approve money for construction the following year. Based on a plan drawn up in 2011, the total bill could come to about $11.6 million.

But at last night’s meeting, supporters of ConcordTV and Heights residents voiced strong support for a media center for the television station, outdoor pickleball courts and another branch library – three components not included in the 2011 plan. Their feedback will go to the council in July or August to update the design, which could be completed by the end of this year or early next.

“We want to check with the council and get our marching orders, so to speak, as we go off and get the design done,” said Matt Walsh, the city’s director of redevelopment, downtown services and special projects.

As it stands, the center would be an 81,000-square-foot recreation building, which would include an indoor turf field, a gymnasium and space for day-care or preschool and senior programming. Walsh and members of the design team clicked through pictures of those amenities on a projection screen last night – a track for runners or walkers, an auditorium for theater performances or group meetings and other mixed-use spaces.

The building currently houses the Parks and Recreation Department, the city’s senior programs, summer camps, the East Concord Cooperative Preschool and a ConcordTV station.

Many members of last night’s crowd wore white stickers with red letters: “I support ConcordTV.”

“ConcordTV offers classes, workshops, volunteer hours for all ages, for all five generations, bringing them together because we are the anchor of this building. . . . We want the opportunity to have a really amazing studio and media center that is top-notch that everyone in New Hampshire is envious of,” Executive Director Doris Ballard said.

Mary Beth Robinson, chairwoman of the library board of trustees, noted a new city library isn’t scheduled in Concord’s capital improvement plan until 2022.

“This looks like a golden opportunity . . . to have a library presence that would be fitting in with the community aspect of the new community center,” she said.

Janice Dutton, a resident, said she and other seniors often travel out of the city to play pickleball. But she loved the idea of a multigenerational community center, she said.

“I think we can help the younger generation learn, and we can learn from them,” she said. “I mean, just think about the opportunities of these kids coming in to teach us technology, sharing a running track. One goes slower, one goes faster. . . . Don’t separate the seniors.”

Her words, too, met a round of applause.

(Megan Doyle can be reached at 369-3321 or or on Twitter

Legacy Comments3

"the total bill could come to about $11.6 million" - There is absolutely nothing Walsh and his democrat friends do not want to be a grandiose Mausoleum to their propensity to spend spend spend. Hope you all enjoy your 3+% tax rate increase in a MINUS 2.9% economy!

That is one hefty price tag! The list of what they want to include explains the cost. I wonder if the seniors will in fact use it. They tend to like their own Senior Centers and are not that keen on mixing with the young uns. I also wonder about the library. Everywhere I have read states library use is way down as a result of e books and other electronics that make accessing info pretty easy. And if kid at school are provided IPads, that will cut down on library use also. Nice idea if we did not have other expensive projects in the works. Did Concord all of a sudden win the lottery? Seems like they are behaving like they found the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

Something bugs me about that $11.6mil for a new Community Center on the Heights. Isn't that the same kind of money our City Council rejected as too high a bid to renovate all of Main Street? I'm all for a new Community Center. I just find it hard to believe such a building has to cost anywhere near that much. As far as repurposing Dame School goes, my opinion is far from objective. Not only did I go to grade school there, but have since discovered that Harriet Patience Dame was one of Concord's MVCs (Most Valuable Citizens). She was the Civil War nurse that followed the 2nd NH Volunteer Infantry, her "Concord Boys", throughout the south during the Rebellion. Despite risking life and limb many times over, Nurse Dame never took a paycheck from the US Govt during the war. On the contrary, she paid from her own pocket to have many a dead soldier's body sent back home, which meant everything to the loved ones of the deceased. In 1867, Harriet took a job in the US Pension Office in Washington DC, and held it nearly 30 years. Taking care of soldiers continued to be her mission long after the final shot of the Civil War. I can't think of a better way to honor this wonderful woman than by repurposing the building named for her.

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