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Concord transforms Dame School into community center

The former Dame School building will soon reopen as the Heights Community Center, and it will play a crucial role in the city’s plans to enhance its Parks and Recreation Department programming.

Part of the existing building will eventually be incorporated into a new community center planned for 2015. But Parks and Recreation Director David Gill said his department isn’t waiting to make use of the building and expand its programs.

By March, the Parks and Recreation offices located in White Park will move to the old school building. Classes and other programs will also relocate, and Gill said senior programs will move to the Heights from the West Street Ward House.

“There’s a lot of capacity to add new programs and new initiatives so it’s going to take a couple of months to work it all out,” Gill said.

This summer, the 40,000-square-foot building will host summer camp programs, becoming what Gill called “one-stop shopping” for parents who have to take children to different buildings for various activities.

The city recently purchased the building from the Concord School District for one dollar. It closed last year as part of the district’s elementary school consolidation. The building is now undergoing minor renovations to make it suitable for adults and office space.

Gill said he’s “trying to walk the fine line” between expanding programs into the former school building and continuing to make use of the department’s existing buildings: the West Street Ward House, the Green Street Community Center and the East Concord Community Center. The building at White Park that houses the parks and recreation offices will remain, Gill said, and there aren’t yet plans for its future.

Gill said the potential for programs will improve dramatically with the construction of a community center on the Dame School site, planned for 2015. The project would include refurbishing part of the existing building and demolishing its older wing to build an indoor turf field, track and basketball court.

“It’s extremely exciting,” he said. “Most of the recreation buildings that we have, they’re very tired and worn-out, and I think all of them were not built for recreational use, they’re buildings that were built for other purposes.”

This year’s city budget includes funding to design the community center, but Gill said that work has not begun.

The offices and programs moving into the center in the coming months will have to relocate during construction, Gill said. The city council declined in August to secure and mothball the building until the project begins, and councilors said they’d like to find a use for the space.

Gill is also looking for groups and organizations interested in using the space, either on a regular basis or for rental at an hourly rate. For more information, contact the Parks and Recreation Department at 225-8690.

(Laura McCrystal can be reached at 369-3312 or lmccrystal@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @lmccrystal.)

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