MANCHESTER, NH – Local leaders and community members gathered at Parkside Middle School on Monday night to obtain neighborhood feedback on a proposed community center that organizers hope to build just a few hundred feet to the south. However, that feedback largely consisted of multiple concerns.
The Mark Stebbins Community Center, named after late entrepreneur and Manchester native Mark Stebbins, is a joint proposal of the Manchester Boys and Girls Club and Amoskeag Health along with other contributing non-profit organizations and $17 million in proposed funding gathered by those groups.
These groups hope the new facility, located on a four-acre site abutting Parkside’s southern border provide a gathering place for local youth as well as greater access to healthcare, technology and food security services for West Side residents.
While the design of the building has not yet been made, with organizers of the proposed facility hoping to get input on that design from meetings such as this one, they hope to integrate the new building’s site with the adjacent schools and also provide on-site parking and integrate with existing community gardens on the site.
Perhaps the most important requirement however according to local architect and Manchester Proud President Barry Brensinger is that the building is integrated with the surrounding neighborhood.
“The only way (the community center) can succeed is if it is adopted by the neighborhood,” said Bresinger. “(The facility proponents) want to hear from you, they want you to be engaged, and the end result will be a building you can be proud of.”
Neighborhood residents expressed concerns on traffic impact to the area, whether the services could be provided more efficiently by renovating empty areas of Manchester West High School, if the size of the building would be inconsistent with nearby buildings and whether it would be appropriate for houseless adults seeking healthcare services to co-mingle with children.
There were also concerns over the appearance of inevitability that the facility will be built.
“I think we should stop and sit at the ‘If’ question, not the ‘when’ question,” said neighborhood resident Carla Gericke.
Mark Degrossiliers, a direct abutter to the proposed site, shared Gericke’s concerns.
“It feels a little bit like the train has left the station, and we’re being asked to jump on as it goes down the railroad,” he said.
Residents also addressed concern over impact to the existing community garden, disruption caused by the construction of the building and the need for health services while Catholic Medical Center is just a few blocks away.
Not all feedback was negative. Danielle Macklin, another neighborhood resident, expressed concerns regarding increased traffic and other issues. But she also said that community centers saved her life when she was growing up in New York City and she would volunteer at the proposed community center if it became a reality, despite her concerns.
“There is a true need here (for a community center), she said. “But our privacy will be affected, especially when it comes to many of my elderly neighbors.”
In June, the Board of Mayor and Aldermen Committee on Lands and Buildings recommended the request by the project’s organizers to purchase the land from the City, specifically the Parks and Recreation Department. However, concerns were expressed there as well, such as Ward 5 Anthony Sapienza stating his reticence at that meeting over the city relinquishing park property to non-governmental organization.
The topic goes before the full Board of Mayor and Aldermen on July 19.