The old, swollen frame and deteriorated internal structure of the Penacook Community Center were too much to overcome. Community funding and new ownership will lead to a full rebirth of the facility, although many of the old seniors programs will not return.
The Penacook Community Center had served as a space for central New Hampshire residents of all ages for nearly 70 years, with older adults from nearby towns enjoying nutritious meals, educational presentations and programs like “Story-Art Hour” and award-winning Bingo. Buddy, where they would interact with young people.
The new center built by the Boys and Girls Club of Central New Hampshire will focus more on child care and youth activities.
Penacook Community Center president Cathy Furlong recently cited the monetary cost the pandemic has taken on the organization as the last straw for its independence, despite donations, federal grants and program money. paycheck protection to keep them afloat for nearly two years. They would not be able to pay for the urgent needs of the building and so had to find other ways to prevent their childcare programs from shutting down 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 six or seven months to get this merger done. It was a fantastic situation. It worked great from start to finish and we couldn’t be happier.
On Tuesday, Boys and Girls Club officials held a public meeting with engineers, architects, city officials and neighbors to discuss a plan to revitalize the center by building a new facility that would be able to fully accommodate the child care programs the center has offered in the past, but not all senior programs.
Seniors who attended the Penacook Community Center Seniors Program were invited to register for Goodlife programs and activities at 254 N. State St., Concord.
Participants asked if additional programs for seniors could be created.
Concord City manager Thomas J. Aspell mentioned that seniors haven’t wanted to socialize much over the past two years due to the pandemic, but are starting to return to the community. Aspell said the city’s parks and recreation department has the ability to increase its programming for seniors.
Furlong said the children attending the center and their families were the top priority throughout the merger process. After several meetings, Boys and Girls Club CEO Christopher Emond said rebuilding the facility on the existing site was the best course of action.
“We thought we had to commit to the community and get back to it,” Emond said.
The proposed plan includes a single-storey 7,500 square foot facility to be built at 76 Community Drive in Penacook. The largest portion of the building would be a 2,150 square foot hall, serving as community space primarily for after-school programs, and would also serve as the Penacook branch of the Concord Public Library.
Concord Library Manager Todd Fabian explained that the Penacook branch would move to this new location and the design would mimic the Concord Heights Community Center location, where all shelving and desks are modular. The library would be moved on certain days of the week.
The plan also includes two rooms of over 500 square feet for toddler daycare and a 950 square foot room for preschool education. The rest of the building plan is completed with a 693 square foot “community center”, infant care space, kitchen, storage space, offices and 10 bathrooms.
Project engineer John Turner and Erin Lambert, civil engineering practice manager for Wilcox and Barton Inc., led the design of 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 add a significant amount of parking along Dolphin Street and at the site itself.
“We’re putting a bit more sidewalk on the site than we originally thought, but that’s because we wanted to make sure we had a dedicated place for parents to drop off and then make sure there’s had adequate parking for staff,” she said.
Emond said the project would represent an investment of approximately $4 million. Nearly $2 million has been raised for the project to date, the majority coming from major gifts, including one of $1 million, the largest in the organization’s history. To further fund the project, the City of Concord would apply for a block grant of $500,000, and the Boys and Girls Club would apply for tax credits to sell to various businesses.
Emond and Furlong are eager to kick off the construction process, 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 about the spring of 2023,” Emond said.
The center has adapted to the needs of the community throughout its life, hosting events ranging from school dances to summer camps. Emond said the range of uses will continue in the new location.
“In many ways it’s going to be very similar,” Emond said. “It’s just a new building…it actually gives us a bit more space for the kids, and we can accommodate more.”
The neighbors in the center have raised minor frustrations with the parking lot, as they want a larger grassy area for the children to play. Employees also noted the need for more bathroom space in the concept, as there are state regulations that require a bathroom for 10 toddlers and preschoolers.
Lambert and Turner will continue to meet with the rest of the project team to refine the project plan ahead of eventual construction in the coming months.