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 firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @megan_e_doyle.com.)