Heritage Commission praises Bill Binnie’s Walker School plans

Last modified: Thursday, May 16, 2013
Bill Binnie’s plans to transform the Walker School building into a media center received unanimous approval from the Concord Heritage Commission yesterday.

As the headquarters of Binnie Media, the 1915-era elementary school will hold television and radio studios.

Renovations will add satellite dishes, radio antennae and parking spaces to the property. Binnie will also replace old windows, construct modern entrances and add landscaping.

Heritage commission members – who reviewed plans because the site is in Concord’s historic district – praised Binnie’s vision at yesterday’s meeting.

“I think this is a nice plan that you’re proposing,” said Fred Richards, vice chairman of the heritage commission. “Restoring the windows to this building will transform it and . . . it will certainly improve that building and its handsome appearance will return to our community. And I’m looking forward, personally, to Binnie Media being a corporate member in our community.”

Binnie, a Seacoast businessman and former U.S. Senate candidate, said yesterday that the building will become the largest media center north of Boston. It will hold television studios for Derry-based WBIN-TV and become home to eight of his radio stations.

“We propose this to be the principal media news center for our state,” Binnie said.

Architect Jonathan Halle and historic preservation consultant Elizabeth Durfee Hengen, hired by Binnie for the Walker School project, presented the plans yesterday. Renovations will include:

∎ Replacing the existing windows, installed in 1976, with windows that are more historically accurate.

∎ Constructing entrances with translucent canopies. Halle said they will feature “whimsical” sculptures shaped like musical notes.

∎ Attaching satellite dishes and antennae to the roof of the building. They will be hidden, in part, by a screen along the roof.

∎ Installing three, 18-foot satellite dishes in the southeast corner of the property near Bouton Street. The black dishes will be partially disguised by landscaping.

∎ Mounting “Binnie Media” on the building. Other signs, on brick walls built at ground level, will read “New Hampshire 1 Media Center.”

At previous meetings about the site, Binnie had proposed relocating Bouton Park at the corner of Church and Bouton streets. But after hearing opposition, he said yesterday that the park will remain in place.

The small park marks the site where New Hampshire ratified the U.S. Constitution in 1788. It was created by Richard Ashley and his wife, Rosamond Flanders Ashley, and dedicated in 2004.

“I am vehemently opposed to the relocating of this area because of its historical significance,” Richard Ashley wrote in a letter to the heritage commission.

Other memorials and benches scattered around the property will be relocated to a different memorial park, Binnie said.

Phil Donovan, chairman of the heritage commission, thanked Binnie yesterday for responding to concerns.

“I thought this process has been a very good one, and thank you for your sensitivity to the area,” Donovan said.

At yesterday’s public hearing, attorney Phil Hastings spoke on behalf of Concord Group Insurance. He said the company, located across from the Walker School building on Bouton Street, has concerns about traffic flow and safety under Binnie’s plans. Concord Group Insurance competed with Binnie in a December auction to purchase the property from the Concord School District.

Donovan said traffic concerns should be directed to the planning board.

Binnie began building his media company in 2011, when he purchased WBIN-TV in Derry. He now owns 17 radio stations.

This week, WBIN stopped its 10 p.m. newscast. Only one of the station’s three news reporters is still working for the company. A company official said the programming change does not affect plans for the Walker School building.

Next, Binnie must seek approval from the Concord Planning Board.

He said he expects to appear before the planning board in June.

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