Boys and Girls Club outlines vision for replacing the aging Penacook Community Center

  • Senior Engineer John Turner of Team Engineering of Bedford talks to the crowd gathered at the Boys and Girls Club in Concord on Tuesday evening, March 22, 2022. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Senior Engineer Erin Lambert of Wilcox and Barton, Inc. of Concord shows Emily O’™Rouke the site plans for renovation of the Penacook Community Center on Tuesday. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Senior Engineer Erin Lambert of Wilcox and Barton, Inc. of Concord speaks to the crowd at the Boys and Girls Club about the renovation of the Penacook Community Center on Tuesday, March 22, 2022. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • The clean out of the Penacook Community Center has already begun with a dumpster outside the building. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • The outside playground of the Penacook Community Center. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 3/23/2022 5:27:25 PM

The antique, blistered frame and deteriorating internal structure of the Penacook Community Center were too much to overcome. Community funding and new ownership will lead to a complete rebirth of the facility, even if many of the old senior programs won’t be returning.

The Penacook Community Center had served as a space for Central New Hampshire residents of all ages to enjoy for nearly 70 years, with elderly adults from neighboring towns enjoying nutritious meals, educational presentations and programs like “Story-Art Hour” and award-winning Bingo Buddy, where they would interact with youth.

The new center built by the Boys and Girls Club of Central New Hampshire will be focused more on child care and youth activities.

Penacook Community Center President Cathy Furlong recently cited the monetary toll the pandemic took on the organization as the last straw for their independence, despite donations, federal grants and Paycheck Protection Program money keeping them afloat for a nearly two-year period. They would not be able to pay for the building’s pressing needs, and therefore needed to find alternative ways to keep their childcare programs from halting as well.

“We knew we didn’t have the money to be able to survive,” Furlong said. “I’ve been working with (the Boys and Girls Club) for probably the last six or seven months getting this merger through. It has been a fantastic situation. It has worked very well from start to finish and we couldn’t be happier.”

On Tuesday, officials from the Boys and Girls Club hosted a public meeting with the engineers, architects, city officials and neighbors to discuss a plan to revitalize the center by constructing a new facility that would be able to fully accommodate the childcare programs the center has offered in the past, but not all the senior programs.

Elderly adults who participated in the senior program at Penacook Community Center have been invited to enroll in the Goodlife Programs and Activities at 254 N. State St., in Concord.

Attendees questioned whether additional programs for elderly adults could be created.

Concord City Manager Thomas J. Aspell mentioned that seniors have not wanted to socialize much for the past two years due to the pandemic, but they are starting to come back out into the community. Aspell said the city’s Parks and Recreation Department has the capacity to increase its senior programming.

Furlong said that the children who attended the center and their families were the top priority through the merger process. After multiple meetings, Boys and Girls Club CEO Christopher Emond said rebuilding the facility at the existing site was the best course of action.

“We thought we needed to make a commitment to the community and get back there,” Emond said.

The proposed plan includes a 7,500-square-foot, single-story facility that will be built at 76 Community Drive in Penacook. The largest portion of the building would be a 2,150 square-foot room, serving as a community space mainly for after-school programs, and would double as the Concord Public Library’s Penacook branch.

Concord Library Director Todd Fabian explained that the Penacook branch would move to this new location, and the design would emulate the Concord Heights Community Center location, where all the shelves and desks are modular. The library would be wheeled out for select days each week.

The plan also includes two 500-plus square foot rooms for toddler daycare, and a 950 square-foot room for preschooling. The rest of the building plan is filled out by a 693-square-foot “community center,” space for infant care, a kitchen, storage space, offices and 10 bathrooms.

Project engineer John Turner and Erin Lambert, director of Wilcox and Barton Inc.’s civil engineering practice led the design for the new facility while working with the city manager and planning board.

Lambert’s plan for the land outside the building would include 3,500 square feet for a new playground and would add a significant amount of parking along Dolphin Street, and on the site itself.

“We’re putting in a little more pavement on site than we initially thought but that’s because we wanted to make sure we had a dedicated place for the parents to do the drop-off and then still make sure there was adequate parking for staff,” she said.

Emond said that the project would be around a $4 million investment. Nearly $2 million has been raised for the project to date, the majority coming from major donations, including one for $1 million, which was the largest in the organization’s history. To further fund the project, the city of Concord would apply for a block grant for $500,000, and the Boys and Girls Club would apply for tax credits to sell to various businesses.

Both Emond and Furlong are eager to get the construction process going, which could begin as early as the fall.

“If we get 75% of the way there with the funding, we could start in the fall ... more than likely you’re talking to spring 2023,” Emond said.

The center has adapted to the needs of the community over its lifetime, hosting events from school dances to summer camps. Emond said the array of uses would continue in the new location.

“In a lot of ways is going to be very similar,” Emond said. “It’s just a new building ... this actually gives us slightly more space for the kids, and we can accommodate more.”

Neighbors of the center brought up minor frustrations with the parking, as they want a larger grassy area for kids to play. Employees also noted the need for more bathroom space in the concept, as there are national regulations that require one bathroom per 10 toddlers and preschoolers.

Lambert and Turner will continue to meet with the rest of the project team to refine the project’s plan before eventual construction in the coming months.

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