Nostalgia in Pembroke favors old clock, but not historic downtown building 

  • Pembroke budget committee chair Karen Yeaton speaks at town meeting on Saturday. By Ray Duckler—

Monitor staff
Published: 3/16/2019 4:51:30 PM

Pembroke showed a nostalgic side Saturday at its town meeting, voting to fund the maintenance of a 120-year-old clock tower on Main Street in Suncook.

Those nostalgic feelings lasted only so long, however, when the town later voted against its continued ownership and maintenance of another historical brick building in the village that houses businesses and apartments on Union Street.

The articles, coming back-to-back, created the loudest and longest buzz as residents waited their turn at the microphone in Pembroke Academy’s auditorium.

The rest of the warrant moved like a fast break by the school’s boys’ basketball team, which won the Division II state title in Durham about 45 minutes after the town meeting ended.

Pembroke approved its proposed budget of $8.32 million, which kept the town portion of the tax rate at $6.75 per $1,000 of assessed property value.

But even a vote on all that money could not compare to the detailed questioning and passion that went into articles about Suncook and its long history as a village in Pembroke.

The clock, which features a tower, an 800-pound bell and the building that serves as the base, was built in the 19th century, when villagers walked to work and the clock signified an identity, while also telling people the time.

Lots of voices came forward, explaining that the clock, which is privately owned, was more than just a face, hands and some springs inside, and trying to convince voters that the $34,420 sought in the subsequent article for clock tower repairs was money worth spending.

“It’s the essential symbol of Suncook,” Jim Garvin pointed out. “It’s the beating heart of the village.”

That statement, and others in support of the clock tower, did not tug on the heartstrings of budget committee member Gerard Fleury, who saw dollars and cents making more sense than a trip down memory lane.

He said Suncook needed to “do a periodic sanity check. The warm feeling you get from knowing it’s there, I don’t feel it.”

The clock, which is operational, has chipped and peeling paint, and cracks in its brickwork. Records show $191,000 has been spent on its upkeep since 2001.

The structure is owned by Hooksett resident Don Bibeau, who bought it for $340,000 from a friend years after falling in love with it and other similar mill-like buildings he’d see while riding his bicycle around town.

It’s not a money-maker from rent paid by residents and the pizza shop and insurance company on the ground floor, Bibeau said. But he’ll get the taxpayer help he needed to maintain it, saying, “I think it’s great,” after the article passed by a landslide.

“It’s not a great investment per se, and I have money that comes out of my pocket every month,” Bibeau said. “It has a lot of deferred maintenance, but I’ve loved that building since I was a little kid. I’d see the beautiful brick buildings and clock towers and fire stations and it was my dream to own one of them.”

The building at 4 Union Street, which includes nearby land, features a combination of apartments and businesses. The town owns the complex and has been responsible for its upkeep.

Supporters cited the valuable parking spots out front and the historical significance of a building that once housed the fire and police departments and, long ago, the town hall.

Detractors said the town should not be in the landlord business, and the maintenance costs weighed against revenue put Pembroke in the red.

The no vote meant the next article asking for $150,000 for repairs to a wall in the building was moot. The building eventually will be put up for sale. Select Board Chairwoman Tina Courtemanche said there was no timetable.


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