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City staff to move ahead with final design for proposed Heights Community Center

The Dame School;  Wednesday, December 19, 2012. 

(ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff)

The Dame School; Wednesday, December 19, 2012. (ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff)

A ConcordTV studio. A branch library. A day-care classroom. A resource center for immigrants.

Concord residents have asked for those ideas and others to be considered for a new multigenerational community center on the Heights. Last night, the Concord City Council asked staff to include those suggestions in future designs for the project. This winter, the council will make final decisions about when to build and what to include in a project that is already estimated to cost more than $11 million.

“We believe it’s worth exploring all the suggestions that the public has made and getting our arms around those, both for capital costs and operating costs. . . . We would come back to the council in December or January with a full review of all those options, including financial analysis,” said Matt Walsh, director of redevelopment, downtown services and special projects.

In 2011, the city drew up a plan for the former Dame School to be converted into an 81,000-square-foot community center. That plan includes an indoor turf field, a gymnasium and space for day-care or preschool and senior programming. The price tag was about $11.4 million, of which $1.125 million would be raised in private donations. Last year, the city purchased the Canterbury Road building from the Concord School District for a dollar. Concord hired H.L. Turner Group to draw the first plans for the building in May, and more money has been included in this year’s budget for the final design.

As the design team began working this spring, the city met with stakeholders and hosted a public meeting to hear input on the proposed community center. New ideas included a media center for the television station, outdoor pickleball courts and another branch library.

During those meetings, Ward 9 Councilor Candace Bouchard said she saw a need for this type of community center on the Heights.

“I’m definitely in favor of moving forward. . . . It was very clear that the community is very much, citywide, behind a facility like this,” Bouchard said.

She also saw opportunities for revenue at the proposed center.

“Lots of users are coming forward, whether it’s a day care or” NHTI, Bouchard said. “I think we’ll find that there are groups out there willing to pay rent.”

Walsh agreed that adding to the 2011 design could add to the money brought in by the community center. For example, he said increasing the size of the proposed gymnasium to meet college-level standards could draw athletic programs from area colleges. City staff has also suggested exploring whether to renovate the existing building as planned or demolish it to build from scratch.

“Our intention is to bring back information so the council can make an informed decision, and give us instruction about which schematic design they like best and that would work best for the community,” Walsh said.

Ward 7 Councilor Keith Nyhan expressed some concern about building the new center.

“I have major concerns about the cost, particularly with how we pay for it in light of the other major projects we have going on – on Loudon Road and the Main Street project,” Nyhan said.

When staff returns with a final design and more information about its financing, City Manager Tom Aspell said the council will need to answer more questions about the proposed community center.

“Should we incorporate these uses into the center?” Aspell said. “What are the costs associated with that?”

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.

Also at last night’s city council meeting:

∎ The council voted to accept a $50,000 donation from Unitil for lighting improvements at the Concord City Auditorium. The Friends of the Audi are planning to install LED lights near the stage area in the auditorium, and member Carol Bagan told the council the total cost will be about $130,000.

The donation will come from the Unitil Municipal Energy Efficiency Program, and the Friends of the Audi are responsible for the remaining cost of the new lighting.

Bagan said the LED lights would be more efficient than the existing lights.

“That translates to a great dollar savings,” Bagan said.

The city auditorium is located at 2 Prince St.

∎ The council received a petition signed by the residents of River’s Edge Estates, a manufactured homes community in Concord. Nearly 30 residents are requesting the city’s help to remove three units in the park. According to the petition, two of the units were condemned last year; the third has been declared uninhabitable.

“These units give off a terrible odor, are an eyesore, and are detracting from the value of our property in their condition,” the petition states.

Aspell said city staff will now review that request. The petition was referred to the legal department, the community development department and code administration.

(Megan Doyle can be reached at 369-3321 or or on Twitter @megan_e_doyle.)

Legacy Comments1

$11+ million for a "Community Center". Basically, same money as Complete Streets, but without benefit of a $4.71mil TIGER grant. Are they out of their effing minds?

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