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Downtown: Heat for Main Street hinges on funding – and Concord Steam

Last modified: 3/19/2013 12:18:03 AM
As Concord redesigns its downtown, one idea has proven especially popular: using waste heat from a new Concord Steam plant to heat the Main Street sidewalks and roadway.

The scope of a snowmelt system on Main Street remains uncertain, as city councilors must decide how much money to spend.

Also unclear is the future of Concord Steam. City officials are waiting still to hear whether the company has financing for its $70 million wood burning plant.

After years of delay, Concord Steam told city officials last fall that its financing was in place. Last week, Deputy City Manager for Development Carlos Baia told the city

council “the financing that we thought was in place apparently is not as secure as we had believed.”

The city is expecting a decision from Concord Steam about its future by April 1, Baia said.

Concord Steam representatives declined to comment about its current plans last week. Pansy Bloomfield, the company’s treasurer and office manager, said “there have been some kinks” in securing financing for the new plant.

Even if construction begins soon on the new plant, Baia said it will not be operational by Jan. 1, 2014, when the city and state government contracts to purchase power are set to begin. Baia said the city council will determine how to move forward.

With the city council expecting to finalize Main Street designs in May, city officials are anxious to hear about Concord Steam’s plans. Mayor Jim Bouley said heated sidewalks “are probably one of the most desirable aspects of the whole plan” for Main Street, based on the public input he’s received.

“But so much of that hinges upon Concord Steam, and will we be able to use that excess water from the boilers?” Bouley said. “It’s a green energy, which I think you need. It makes it more enticing because it’s a waste product form. But if we need to find alternatives, clearly it is going to be a very long conversation with the community.”

Without Concord Steam, the cost of installing a snowmelt system would range from $2 million to $6 million, according to a report from City Engineer Ed Roberge. A system run by natural gas, geothermal wells or wood chip boilers would also come with an annual operating cost between $40,000 and $500,000, Roberge wrote in his report to the city council.

Even with Concord Steam, the snowmelt system comes at a cost. The preliminary project budget allots $846,000 to install the snowmelt system, which would cover the cost of heating the sidewalks from Centre to Pleasant streets, Roberge wrote. Installing heat on both the sidewalk and roadway from the intersection of Centre and North Main streets to Storrs and South Main streets would cost $4.99 million.

Heating any area greater than the sidewalks from Centre Street to Hills Avenue would exceed the project budget. But city councilors could also choose to heat a portion of the sidewalks and a portion of the street, or find savings elsewhere in the project’s budget and spend more on a snowmelt system. Councilors have said they’ll collect more cost information and gather public input.

The idea to heat the roadway came from the committee appointed last fall to advise the city council about the Main Street project.

“I think unanimously, when you looked at all the different nuances of the project, I think that was the one thing that every single person agreed upon,” Dan St. Hilaire said, a city councilor and member of the advisory committee.

The city could save money in snow removal with the system, St. Hilaire said. While the city council has not yet discussed its options, St. Hilaire said he would consider heating part of the street.

“It seems to me that doing the complete project with a heated street is just too costly, but if we look at the main portion of Main Street between Pleasant and Centre streets it might be valuable to heat the street as well as the sidewalk,” he said.

A snowmelt system would provide an estimated $30,000 in annual savings for snow removal, Roberge wrote in his report, and would come with an estimated $5,000 annual cost of maintenance. The city would not spend money on the heat itself, because the Concord Steam system would channel hot water that will already have to travel from downtown buildings back to the facility in the South End.

But that plan hinges on a new, $70 million wood burning plant at the corner of Langdon Avenue and South Main Street. Baia said city officials have learned as the Concord Steam project hits delays that the project is “a very complex deal.”

“There’s a lot riding on their viability and we’re hoping it works, but we’ll have to wait and see,” Baia said.

Time for laughs

The Purple Pit is adding a comedy night.

The jazz club opened on the Pleasant Street Extension last year, and it now hosts live music Friday and Saturday nights, with a $10 cover fee and a BYOB policy.

Co-owner Tom LeMieux said he decided to expand his hours to include Thursday nights, and he’s partnered with a production company to bring comedians to downtown Concord every week.

“I just figured Concord, you know, the capital city, needs to come back to life here and the people need stuff to do and everybody needs to laugh,” he said. “So we’re calling it ‘time to laugh.’ ”

LeMieux said the weekend schedule will also continue, with live jazz music Friday nights and blues on Saturdays.

“So we’re slowly building the club and trying to get something for everybody,” he said.

Each Thursday, the club will host five comedians. The first comedy night will be held April 4, beginning at 8:30 p.m.

South Main on display

The Smile Building has a new display about the history of South Main Street.

The display fills an entire wall and tells the story of South Main Street through a map, photographs and text. It was installed last week to “give everybody a snapshot of Concord, if you will,” property manager Aaron Holt said.

Developer Steve Duprey, who owns the building, commissioned Liz Durfee Hengen, a local historic preservation consultant, to complete the research and write the text of the display. Advantage Signs Inc. turned her work into the display wall.

Hengen’s research highlights the history of several buildings along South Main Street, including the site of the Smile Building at 49 S. Main St., which held a carriage factory and turned into an automobile dealership during the 1920s, before becoming IBM and insurance offices.

Also included in the display: the history of the “Bindery Block” next door, where Duprey is constructing another building. According to the display, previous buildings on that site have been home to: the Prescott Organ Factory; Capitol City Motors Oldsmobile dealership; the John A. White Co., which made machinery for woodworking; Cushman Electric Co., Carlson Motor Sales; and the New Hampshire Bindery bookbinding company.

South Main Street has a largely industrial past, but the display also features historical homes. Among them is Franklin Pierce’s last home at 52 S. Main St. The former president entertained guests such as novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne in the home, and Pierce died there in 1869. The building burned in 1981, but its granite retaining wall and fence remain today.

Hengen has also completed a written report, which Holt said will eventually be turned into a pamphlet for visitors to take home.

Pub crawl plans

The owner of a local clothing company is planning a pub crawl to raise money for charity.

Chris Eberhard organized his first charity pub crawl in December “on a whim.” He thought a small group of friends would wear his T-shirts and participate to raise money for the Friendly Kitchen, but more than 70 people came and the group raised $1,155.

“And then a bunch of people started emailing me and asking me to do it again,” Eberhard, who lives in Concord and sells his Time Flys Clothing products online, said.

So Eberhard is planning another pub crawl April 20, to raise money for Friends of the Forgotten Children.

Participants are asked to donate at least $10, and they’ll receive a T-shirt designed by Eberhard. The group will visit at least four local bars, where proceeds from food and drink specials will also go toward the charity.

Interested pub crawlers may email timeflysclothing@gmail.com with their T-shirt size and the amount of money they’ll donate. The event begins at 5:30 p.m. April 20, when participants will meet in Eagle Square.

New way to fundraise

The Woman’s Club of Concord is starting a new fundraising program, through which supporters can spend money at local businesses to raise money for repairs to its Chamberlin House on Pleasant Street

Woman’s Club members and supporters will register their credit cards on United Community Business’s website, according to a press release about the partnership. When they use their card at one of United Community’s registered businesses in Concord, a portion of the purchase will go toward repairs to the aging Chamberlin House. Business owners determine a percentage of each purchase that they’ll contribute to the organization.

“The people at United Community Business have come up with a winning idea,” Elaine Bello, the Woman’s Club scholarship committee chairwoman, said in a press release. “One that makes it easy for businesses to give support to the people in their area while promoting their goods and services.”

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


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