If you’ve needed to stop by Concord Parks and Recreation for anything in recent months, you probably noticed that they no longer have a home on the Heights.
Instead, what used to be the Dame School and headquarters for Parks and Rec is now a pretty large construction zone.
Since June, their offices have a new – albeit temporary – home at White Park, where they were before moving into the Heights Community Center a few years back. But it’s worth it because come June, Parks and Rec is going to have some pretty impressive digs to show off.
The $7.5 million project has been on the city’s radar for most of the 21st century. We know, that’s a pretty long time.
And after combing through 20 options, that included various renovation projects to the existing building, tearing down and starting new, as well as a plan that would have resulted in an 80,000 square-foot, $18 million Taj Mahal, the powers that be settled on somewhere in the middle.
The Dame School was built in three phases. The original building was constructed in the 1940s, followed by three small additions in the ’50s and one final one in 1965. After the elementary school consolidation project in 2012, the city bought the former school for a whopping $1 in 2013. That set the wheels in motion for this project.
“We had always been really focused on this location,” said Matt Walsh, director of redevelopment/ downtown services/special projects.
The project will keep the entire wing built in 1965, as well as one very important piece from the original structure – the auditorium/ cafeteria.
“It really came down to working with the existing structure and using the parts we wanted to keep,” Walsh said.
There are a lot of people who went to the Dame School and have fond memories of the auditorium, and many people wanted to see it stay. And as the old saying goes, give the people what they want.
“It was important to the community to reuse it,” Walsh said.
The current portion of the building is being renovated with new plumbing and electrical, and adding some walls, but for the most part the floor plan is staying the same.
“We’re keeping the structure, but everything inside is going to be new,” said David Gill, Parks and Rec director. “The 1960s part, a lot of it was still good, just needed some updating.”
It will include four programming rooms, two exercise spaces, the senior room and staff office space. It’s also home to a new satellite library, which will be open 20 hours a week.
The old entrance is where most of the new portion will begin. You will walk into a grand new lobby, which will also have an entrance from the Keach Park side. The auditorium will be right off the lobby, and that is where the use of the existing building ends. Also off the lobby will be a brand spanking new gymnasium, as well as men’s and women’s locker rooms and a serving kitchen.
Right now, the old portion of the building is in various stages of the renovation process. Steel studs have been put up in rooms to create new walls, and create space on existing walls to add spray foam insulation to make it more energy efficient.
The windows are also being replaced to help with conserving energy and the wiring and plumbing is a work in progress.
As far as the new areas go, the foundation has been poured for the kitchen, locker rooms and lobby, while the gymnasium is next. Site work is being done all around, and it shouldn’t be too long before you see some walls going up in the new construction.
“(The City Council) wanted to make sure they chose something that was economical and met the needs of the community,” Walsh said.
With give or take nine months to go, things are moving along.
When it’s done, Parks and Rec can have just about all of their programs under one roof. Right now, they use the East Concord Community Center, West Street Ward House and Green Street Community Center, in addition to the community center before construction and the old Heights gym, which had one window.
“It was a gym, but it was not a gym,” Gill said.
But the newest one of that group is 40 years old and none were really intended for their current uses.
And while Parks and Rec already offers a ton of programs, the possibilities for more will be just about endless.
“It’s going to be great,” said Laura Bryant, recreation supervisor. “Senior programming is growing, It’s the largest growing population on Concord. This will give us the ability to offer a lot more.”
So it might be a bit of an inconvenience for now and into 2018, but it will be worth it.