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During hearing on community center design, ConcordTV supporters line up behind nonprofit

Last modified: 3/10/2015 12:26:51 AM
Doris Ballard, the executive director of ConcordTV, made a plea to the Concord City Council last night.

The nonprofit currently uses its space in the former Dame School for free, but a proposal for a new community center on that property could require ConcordTV to pay as much as $84,000 per year in rent.

“There is not enough money for the rent,” Ballard said last night. “The only way we could do that is if we laid off more than (half) of our staff. If we did that, the services would disappear, the training would be cut to probably 20 percent. We’d be back in the numbers of 2001 when we started.”

“That’s the reality.”

Ballard was among 12 people who weighed in on the design of a new community center on Canterbury Road. No one directly opposed the community center, and many spoke in support of ConcordTV.

The city council eventually tabled its vote on the community center design, in hopes of finding a design that could fit the public access television station and better understanding of the project’s cost in relation to other big-ticket spending.

“It’s really in your hands,” Ballard told the council.

City staff has presented several options for building the community center, which range in price from $14 million to $17 million. The council has slowly earmarked money – more than $700,000 total – in the budget last year and this year for a more detailed design. Construction would hinge on the council’s approval and would likely not begin until 2016.

The original plan included offices for the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, an indoor turf field, a gymnasium, space for senior programming, a catering kitchen and a function room. Some residents requested a branch library, but Director Todd Fabian has suggested adding library services like a technology cart and inter-library loan rather than building a new branch onto the community center.

And like the crowd last night, many have rallied behind ConcordTV. Among the voices in support is Andrew Nolin. He attended a video camp there when he was in fourth grade, and he told the council he has been involved with the nonprofit ever since.

He is currently studying film and television as a freshman at Syracuse University.

“I don’t think I would have gotten there without the opportunities ConcordTV gave me in my life,” Nolin said.

Their comments stuck with at-large Councilor Steve Shurtleff, who wondered what an impact the studio might have for children on the Heights.

“If some young person could walk over to (ConcordTV) and use all that wonderful equipment, it could change their lives completely,” Shurtleff said.

But ConcordTV operates on a $250,000 budget, most of which comes from the city’s contract with Comcast. Without a clear idea on how to pay for that studio or the even overall project, concern about the bottom line held the council’s final vote.

“How do we pay for this project, which I think is very worthwhile?” Ward 7 Councilor Keith Nyhan said. “I’m concerned about the money. How are we going to pay (for) it, relative to these other capital improvement projects?”

So city staff will return next month with estimates of the community center’s impact on the budget, in conjunction with other major projects like the Main Street redesign.

The city council will meet again April 13 at 7 p.m. in council chambers.

Also at last night’s meeting:

∎ An ordinance meant to limit panhandling will stay on the books in Concord. Enacted in May 2013, a sunset clause brought the rule back to the council last night. All 15 members voted to keep the ordinance, which makes it illegal for a pedestrian to accept items from a car in the road.

∎ The council last night accepted a report encouraging the extension of any passenger rail project into Concord. The state Department of Transportation recently released a study of options for such a project, and some do not include service north of Nashua or Manchester.

The city’s report argued in Concord’s favor and pointed to the state’s existing property on Stickney Avenue as a possible station location.

“It makes sense that it comes all the way to the capital,” City Manager Tom Aspell said.

∎ Mayor Jim Bouley created a committee to study the potential impact of Northern Pass in Concord. Councilors Gail Matson of Ward 8, Candace Bouchard of Ward 9 and Dan St. Hilaire of Ward 10 will all serve on the committee, along with at-large Councilor Mark Coen.

(Megan Doyle can be reached at 369-3321, mdoyle@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @megan_e_doyle.)


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