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Penacook Community Center looks to expand, could buy Merrimack Valley building

  • From the administrative building of the Penacook Community Center, Deb Cuddahy looks out over to one of the buildings that the Penacook Community Center uses while standing for a portrait on Thursday afternoon, December 5, 2013. The PCC currently uses several buildings throughout the village of Penacook for their programs. They hope to purchase the Washington Street School so that they could relocate to a larger location that could accommodate all their needs. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    From the administrative building of the Penacook Community Center, Deb Cuddahy looks out over to one of the buildings that the Penacook Community Center uses while standing for a portrait on Thursday afternoon, December 5, 2013. The PCC currently uses several buildings throughout the village of Penacook for their programs. They hope to purchase the Washington Street School so that they could relocate to a larger location that could accommodate all their needs.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Volunteer reader Lynne West, center, reads to kids in the Penacook Community Center's pre-school on Thursday, December 5, 2013. The child care program at the PCC is currently at full capacity for the size of their facilities. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Volunteer reader Lynne West, center, reads to kids in the Penacook Community Center's pre-school on Thursday, December 5, 2013. The child care program at the PCC is currently at full capacity for the size of their facilities.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • A collage with photos from when the first years Penacook Community Center hangs near the gym in one of the buildings. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    A collage with photos from when the first years Penacook Community Center hangs near the gym in one of the buildings.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • From the administrative building of the Penacook Community Center, Deb Cuddahy looks out over to one of the buildings that the Penacook Community Center uses while standing for a portrait on Thursday afternoon, December 5, 2013. The PCC currently uses several buildings throughout the village of Penacook for their programs. They hope to purchase the Washington Street School so that they could relocate to a larger location that could accommodate all their needs. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • Volunteer reader Lynne West, center, reads to kids in the Penacook Community Center's pre-school on Thursday, December 5, 2013. The child care program at the PCC is currently at full capacity for the size of their facilities. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • A collage with photos from when the first years Penacook Community Center hangs near the gym in one of the buildings. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

In an old blue house on High Street owned by the Penacook Community Center, Director Deb Cuddahy and at least seven other administrators and teachers work in a cramped second-floor office space, while 12 2-year-olds nap and play in the rooms downstairs. Next door, in a one-story building with yellow siding, 28 kindergartners read and make gingerbread houses. At the third building, nine 4-year-olds make reindeer food in an upper-level room once meant for storage.

None of these spaces, which occupy every room in the center except the gym, can fit any more students, and child care is only one of the services the community center offers. When the kids go home at night, the gym opens for adult fitness classes and community events, another classroom opens for professional development and most activities for senior citizens happen off-site.

Roughly 9,800 people will participate in activities offered by the community center this year – up from 3,200 in 2005 – and there’s not nearly enough space for all of them.

“We’ve imploded internally; we just don’t have the space to accommodate the needs of the community,” Cuddahy said. “And we see that there’s so many more things that we could do, and we just can’t physically do it.”

In an effort to solve this problem, the community center made an offer to the Merrimack Valley School District in September to purchase the Washington Street School and move all of its operations there. That building, once the district’s high school, now houses special education programs and rents space to the CSI and TEAMS charter schools. It costs the district $48,000 annually to maintain.

There are several hurdles before a deal is close to being done – both sides would need to settle on a price, the center would need to raise enough money to meet it, and Merrimack Valley would need to decide what to do with the programs that use the building now. Merrimack Valley voters would also have to approve the final sale. School administrators and board members have said recently that they’re serious about exploring the sale given the community center’s level of interest.

“This is not a light offer, they’ve put a lot of effort into studying the building,” Superintendent Mike Martin told school board members and selectmen at a recent meeting.

If this sale doesn’t work out, the center could expand its existing space (there is some unused land between the buildings) or look at other buildings. Cuddahy, the director, said finding a larger space is the only way the center can expand its services.

“We’re literally utilizing every single inch of this facility,” she said.

The Penacook Community Center’s original building, with the gym, was planned in 1948 and built by community members in 1954. Today, the center partners with more than 25 community organizations to provide child care, youth programming, adult fitness programs, professional development for child-care professionals and parents, senior programming and inter-generational activities. People from more than eight communities use the center. The child-care programs, offered only to Penacook and Boscawen residents, serve 116 children and can’t take any more due to space constraints.

Moving to the Washington Street School would allow the center to house all of its programs under one roof and would provide more resources, such as a stage for community performances and a kitchen. Right now, most of the senior programs are run out of the Penacook Historical Society, and their weekly lunches are held at a nearby church.

The child-care programs are among the cheapest in the area and have some of the most highly qualified teachers, Cuddahy said. The center serves children from 18 months old to kindergarten for fees ranging from $153 to $184 per week, and charges roughly $75 for children ages 6 to 12. Those programs include a focus on reading and literacy and promote healthy eating, Cuddahy said.

This summer, for example, the center received grant money to partner with two organic farmers and other child-care centers to harvest vegetables and fruits at the historical society. In total, the children harvested 1,300 pounds of fruits and vegetables, which were given for free to the children, their families, senior citizens and food shelters.

Purchasing a new space or adding to the current space won’t be cheap, and the center would need to start a capital fund drive and search for grants. The center’s board has been considering a move for about two years. A move to the Washington Street school would double the center’s capacity, and the board has determined there is a great enough need to support that, Cuddahy said.

“We’ve been very mindful in looking forward, looking where we’ve been, looking at the needs in the community,” she said. “And we know there’s a need, there’s a huge need for what we do.”

(Kathleen Ronayne can be reached at 369-3390 or kronayne@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @kronayne.)

Legacy Comments1

I have sent the following letter to the Superintendent, Mr. Martin asking questions as I wonder if it is feasible to sell this property if the school district has to relocate "special education, and the 2 charter schools. I think people in the school district need to do as I am doing, ask questions. Dear Mr. Martin, I have read an article in the Concord Monitor regarding the Penacook Community Center possibly wanting to purchase the old Merrimack High School. Would you please provide me with some information: 1. What is the school district proposing to do on relocating the "Special Education and the CSI and TEAMS Charter Schools," if this sale took place? Is there some place in mind to relocate or does the school district propose building a new building. What would the cost be to the taxpayers of the school district? 2. The article stated that to maintain the old high school is costs the district about 48,000. a year. How much does CSI and Teams Charter Schools pay for rent each year to the school district for the space it uses? Is there any other income received by the school district from these two schools that would come under "maintaining the old high school". Thank you for your help.

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