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Bill Binnie continues planning Walker School renovation

Students return to Walker School in Concord in 2007.

(Concord Monitor photo/Ken Williams)

Students return to Walker School in Concord in 2007. (Concord Monitor photo/Ken Williams)

The former Walker School building will have new windows to match its historical character and modern entryways to mark its new use when Bill Binnie turns it into media center.

As a radio and television center, the Church Street property will also have satellite dishes and antennae. Three 4-meter satellite dishes will sit on the ground at the property, with up to five 3-meter dishes at the top of the building, architects told the Concord Heritage Commission during an informal meeting yesterday.

Binnie, a Seacoast businessman, has a purchase and sales agreement to buy the former elementary school from the Concord School District for $900,000. He is now seeking the necessary approvals from the city’s heritage commission, zoning board and planning board. When complete, the building will hold television studios for Derry-based WBIN-TV and six radio stations, all part of Binnie’s growing media company.

Construction will begin this summer if the project receives the necessary site plan approvals, said Richard Uchida, Binnie’s attorney.

Because the property is in the Concord Historic District, renovations require approval from the Concord Heritage Commission. Members of Binnie’s staff and design team hope to hold a formal hearing with the commission in May, but yesterday they met at city hall to gather reactions to preliminary site plans.

“Other than creating something at the entryway and redoing the windows, the (exterior of the) building is going to be preserved pretty much as it exists today,” said Jonathan Halle of Concord-based Warren Street Architects.

Binnie has hired Halle to design the building. Local historical preservation consultant Liz Durfee Hengen, a former member of the city’s heritage commission, is consulting Binnie and his design team about the site’s historical significance.

The television and radio studios require antennae and satellite dishes. Some will be along the parapet of the building, including up to five satellite dishes. Three-meter dishes would face west, east and north, according to the latest designs.

Three larger, 4-meter dishes on the ground along Bouton Street will be partially concealed behind shrubbery and a retaining wall, Halle said. Computer graphics of the design showed the top portion of each satellite dish peeking above the foliage and visible from Bouton Street.

There will only be landscaping to block a view of the dishes from Bouton Street. Halle said the other side must be left open for satellite signals.

Heritage commission members yesterday were largely complimentary of initial designs for the $1 million renovation, especially plans to replace the building’s windows, clean up the outside brickwork, add landscaping and remove chain-link fences.

The building, built in 1914 and 1915, no longer has its original windows. Hengen said the proposed window design will be consistent with the building’s history.

“This building will be so much handsomer than it has been in decades,” said Fred Richards, vice chairman of the heritage commission.

The entryways of the buildings will have a modern look, Halle said, to create a covered entry and help visitors find the main entrance. A blue musical note design will serve as a pillar for a translucent panel that extends off the building to offer shelter above the doors, but doesn’t block views of the brickwork.

“What we ended up with is something very whimsical,” Halle said.

Hengen said the new entrance design “really speaks to this new era that the building’s going to be used for.” And, she said the entryways are removable; they would not permanently alter the building’s structure.

One entrance will also be made handicapped accessible.

Designs show white lettering and a logo reading “Binnie Media” on the building’s facade near both main entrances. Short masonry walls with lettering likely reading “New Hampshire 1 Media Center” will be installed at ground level.

The project will also add parking spaces behind the building, facing the corner of North State and Bouton streets. There is currently only parking in front of the building, along Church Street.

Halle also discussed the relocation of memorials and benches on the property to a new garden at the corner of North State and Church streets. Some heritage commission members worried how the memorials’ donors and creators will feel about that plan.

Uchida said Binnie and his design team will reach out to families and individuals who have connections to the memorials.

“We’re deeply sensitive to all of the memorials on the land,” Uchida said.

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

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