Concord to host public meeting on proposed multipurpose facility at White Park
An architect's rendering shows a proposed Ice Skating house to be built at White Park.
As some neighbors oppose a proposed multipurpose facility to replace the aging skate house at White Park, the city will host another public meeting this month in hopes of drumming up local support for the project.
The Parks and Recreation Department has been planning an upgrade to the outdated skate house, and Director David Gill said he wants a new building that would serve the park all year, instead of only during the winter months.
“How do we make it a multipurpose, year-round facility that is used by the community?” Gill asked.
The old skate house is in such poor condition that it will not be open this season, Gill said, citing a litany of problems with the 1950s-era structure.
“The building has a lot of water issues in the basement,” Gill said. “It has electrical issues. There’s no heat in the facility anymore. There are signs of mold. . . . It is in rough shape.”
The skate house is beyond repair, Gill said. A year ago, he outlined two plans for a new building at a January city council meeting. The councilors preferred the larger of the two, a 3,000-square-foot facility.
Gill said that plan would cost about $800,000, and the money for the project would come from donations or from a public-private partnership.
The city council asked Gill to collect more input from the neighborhood last year, and a public meeting later this month will be the fourth on the project. Gill said public opinion so far has been “a good mix.”
“We’re trying to build some consensus,” Gill said.
But some neighbors, such as Mary Deal, have taken issue with the proposed location of the new building – squeezed between the pond and the parking lot on the White Street side of the park.
Deal sat on the hardwood floor in her White Street home yesterday, flipping through paperwork she has collected about the park. Her research dug up an application that would add the park to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982, which included quotes from landscape architect Charles Eliot’s vision for the open space he designed.
“‘Picturesque naturalism,’” Deal read from the application. “Oh my god, I love those words.”
Deal, 64, has lived in her house across from the park since 1994. She pointed to a photograph of her youngest son as a boy standing in the park, a green T-shirt down to his knees as he cocked his baseball bat over his shoulder.
The space where he stood in that photo is now a large parking lot, Deal said.
“What people want is grass and open space,” she said. The proposed building “is another taking away of open space. . . . There’s not going to be any park left. It’s going to be all cement and buildings.”
She held up a print-out of an architect’s rendering for the proposed building. The design doesn’t work in one of the state’s oldest parks, she said.
“To put a lot of time and energy on this modernistic building that doesn’t belong in a historic park, it’s just wrong,” she said.
Matt Elliott, who lives on nearby Rowell Street, is the president of Friends of White Park, a volunteer group that helps the city maintain the park. He and other members of the small organization also disapprove of the designs that have been proposed so far, he said.
“If you were walking or jogging or otherwise moving along White Street, instead of looking out and seeing the pond or the free green space, you would be looking at the back of the building,” Elliott said.
At the last public meeting in November, the city was unable to answer questions about how it would staff or schedule events at the multipurpose building throughout the year, Elliott said. He participates in the Black Ice Pond Hockey Championship tournament every year, he said, but he and other neighborhood residents want to see a facility that keeps the park feeling open.
“It just seems in a city, green space is valuable,” he said.
Concord resident Chris Brown learned how to skate on the pond in White Park. He still skates on it as one of the founders of the Black Ice Pond Hockey Association, which will host its annual tournament at the park Jan. 24 to 26.
Black Ice has donated nearly $30,000 to the city in the past two years to help take care of the park and develop this multipurpose building, Brown said.
“To have an event like this (tournament) and to be able to potentially make the park better than when we started, I think ultimately that’s our goal,” Brown said.
Brown said the city has done “an admirable job” soliciting input on the project.
“We were at the last public forum, and there was definitely some concern about the size, about the scope, about who can use it and what it’s going to be used for,” Brown said. “Ultimately, I don’t live in the White Park neighborhood. We use White Park for Black Ice, but I value the opinions of people that are in that neighborhood that are going to use that facility 365 days a year.”
If Gill can sway the neighborhood in his favor, the project would have to be approved by the city council and the planning board.
“We’re trying to get to that consensus point regarding the need for the facility, what should the size of that facility be, what would the uses be,” Gill said.
The next public meeting about the skate house will be held Jan. 16 at 6 p.m. at the Heights Community Center on Canterbury Road.
Deal has spent considerable time over the last several months researching White Park, which was gifted to the city by Armenia White in 1884.
“If Armenia were alive, she . . . would go down to city hall and probably point her finger at them in a very dignified and Victorian way,” Deal said. “She would say, ‘Fellas, this is not what I had in mind. Shape up.’ ”
(Megan Doyle can be reached at 369-3321 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @megan_e_doyle.)