The last time we saw the building that has since become the new community center – formerly Dame School on Canterbury Road – there was a gigantic pile of classroom chairs in the parking lot, and the whole place was surrounded by construction fencing.
Now it has a whole new entryway, landscaping and a fresh, modern look inside and out. After about a year of hard work, the new space is finally set to open to the public on Monday, with the first round of camps being held there the following week.
This project has been in the works for quite some time. The former school building was purchased by the city for a grand total of $1 after the elementary school consolidation project in 2012. The building operated as the Heights Community Center in the following years, hosting lots of senior programming and housing the Parks and Recreation headquarters.
Last summer, the project to completely renovate the building got under way, and it was a project that was not rushed or forced through by any means.
“Everyone wanted a space that could be truly multipurpose,” said David Gill, Parks and Rec director. “Public input was taken into consideration.”
What the public wanted, he said, was a space that retained some original character of the old school building, while also providing all the modern amenities and efficiencies of a new-construction building. In the end, that’s exactly what the new building turned out to be.
The Dame School was built in three phases – the original building in the 1940s, then three additions in the ’50s and one final one in 1965. The entire wing from 1965 has been preserved, as has the original auditorium/cafeteria from the 1940s original structure.
While these original pieces carry on the history of the building, virtually everything else involved with the project is new, efficient and state of the art.
For example, the new senior room, which looks out to the main entrance, used to have single-pane windows and no insulation in the walls. Now they have high-efficiency windows with blown-in insulation, making a much tighter seal in the building that Gill said should lead to dramatic improvements in heat and air conditioning retention. The whole building also features all LED light bulbs, another efficiency-adding measure that brings the building into the 21st century. The electrical, heating and AC systems have all been replaced, as well.
Apart from the utilities, there’s all kinds of new rooms and features throughout the building, such as a regulation high school-size gymnasium with a poured rubber floor. This gym can be used for basketball, volleyball, pickleball and a slew of other activities. And the rubber floor, recreation supervisor Laura Bryant said, provides more versatility and flexibility (literally and figuratively) than a traditional hardwood floor – it doesn’t scratch, it’s softer and it’s easy to clean.
Across from the gym is a new auditorium. This is the part that remains in the original 1940s section of the building. What once was home to pickleball and self-defense courses, among other things, now has a wood-look tile floor and a revamped stage that will host all kinds of musical and dance performances, as well as anything else that pops into staffers’ heads.
“It’s 100 percent multi-use, multipurpose,” Gill said. “Everything is designed to be versatile.”
Another highlight of the new space is the dedicated senior room, complete with big, comfy chairs and a sink. This room has lots of windows providing nice natural light and pleasant views of the spruced-up property.
There is also a room that will be sort of a satellite Concord Public Library installation. There will be some books as well as Chromebook computers and other library resources. This will be staffed by the library for 20 hours a week on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, and patrons can have books from the big library sent to the community center if it’s easier to access the community center than the library.
Outside the building, a lot of effort was put into making sure the place looked nice and welcoming. The front entrance has been done over with all new landscape and hardscape, with a concrete walkway surrounded by mulch and plants leading up to the front door.
Landscaping has been done all around the building, and the back side is actually now a big feature. Keach Park is right behind the community center, and now there is no fence or any other kind of divider between the two properties, so Bryant and Gill envision people coming from the park right into the community center, and vice versa.
The front reception desk, which is one of the main “wow factors” at the new community center, Bryant said, was strategically positioned so that whoever is working there can easily see anyone entering through either the front or the back door. The reception desk also provides a view directly into the gym and auditorium, both of which have plenty of glass.
In total, the building went from about 45,000 square feet down to about 30,000, Gill said, but it won’t feel like a downsizing at all. A big chunk of that 45,000 square feet was the old school wing that was never used for anything and was essentially just dead space. This new space uses about 18,000 square feet of the old structure, with the rest being new construction.
If you had ever been to any of the previous iterations of this building, you’ll still recognize plenty of that old character, but once you get inside, it will look, feel and even smell like a brand-new, state-of-the-art facility. And that was always the point, Gill said.
“The community wanted balance,” he said, and that’s just what they got with the new community center.
The building officially opens Monday. The library room will open next Tuesday, June 12, and the first round of camp will start up June 18.
Bryant and Gill said they expect a big grand opening ceremony – complete with the mayor and a ribbon-cutting, most likely – some time in the near future, though that was still being worked out as of last week. The hope is to get settled in and up and running first, then figure out a time to have a ceremony, Bryant said.
In the meantime, more information can be found at concordparksandrecreation.com. You can also check for updates on the department’s Facebook page, facebook.com/ConcordParknRecDept.