MANCHESTER, NH – The area around the famous mill girl in Manchester’s millyard is getting redesigned, and the city’s Department of Public Works is looking for feedback and ideas from the public this month before they finalize their plans.
Manchester Connects, a grassroots community action group working to reshape downtown is partnering with the city on the project. With the help of architect Steve Hebsch of Lavallee Brensinger and Matt Low, senior vice president of engineering firm Hoyle, Tanner & Associates, a team developed a proposed redesign of the area that would relocate the statue, build an Americans-with-Disabilities-Act-compliant ramp, install colored light fixtures in a new set of stairs, and an expanded seating area.
“It’s been recognized for a while that those stairs that are there now are in need of some repair and also aren’t ADA accessible. So it’s been sort of on the back burner for a while,” said Owen Friend-Gray, the project manager at DPW and the department’s recently-promoted interim chief engineer of highways.
The organization’s steering committee took note of the need to redesign the stairs near the statue, connecting Commercial Street to Bedford Street, after a 2017 Civic Moxie report identified the issue. Committee members also saw an opportunity to do some placemaking at that location, according to Low.
Low said the additional gathering space, seating and stair lighting were all part of that idea.
“All of those things are involved in the idea of placemaking. So we really wanted to make it a destination rather than just a conveyance,” Low said.
Downtown resident David Casinghino said repairs to those stairs are long overdue.
“But it’s especially exciting to see the city working to create a new community space beyond downtown proper,” Casinghino said. “Anything the city can do to better connect our downtown to the millyard, the river, and other parts of the city in general is key for growth and increased quality of life in Manchester.”
As currently designed, the 10-foot-tall bronze statue — sculpted by Antoinette Schultze to commemorate the role of women in the textile mills during the industrial revolution — would be relocated a few feet to a more central location. The new ramp would zig-zag around it and a narrower set of stairs would be located on the far right (see plans below).
Low said the proposed ramp needs to zig-zag or else it would be too steep and would not comply with ADA regulations.
The idea for the lighting was something that came from Mayor Joyce Craig’s office, Low said.
“The Mayor’s office was very interested in some lighting that … could change color to signify certain events or holidays, Pride Week or whatever,” Low said.
There is talk of putting an electrical outlet and perhaps some specialized lighting that would better accommodate a food vendor on that spot, according to Friend-Gray, and possibly some space for another art installation near the seating area.
The proposed gathering space would cut into current greenspace, he said, and parking would not be impacted in any way.
Low said they are also looking into the possibility of cleaning up the statue, if needed. The statue is owned by Intown Manchester.
Friend-Gray said the project is on track to get built later this year, but first they are seeking more feedback from the community. Input can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
“People who live and work in the area have insights that we don’t necessarily have,” Friend-Gray said.
As of Tuesday, he said they’ve already received about a dozen pieces of public input. Submissions are open through the end of the month.
Friend-Gray hopes to complete the final designs this spring, around March or April, and put the project out to bid. Construction could start as soon as summer or fall, he said.
So far, the city has approved spending about $500,000 for the design and construction of the project, according to Friend-Gray.
Low said they still aren’t sure what the total cost would be. But if they go over budget, he said there may be an opportunity to do a fundraising campaign for certain elements, like the colored lighting.