MANCHESTER, N.H. – What would happen if there was a neighborhood meeting and no one from the neighborhood showed up? A good question, and one that was almost answered on Wednesday night.
After the Board of Mayor and Aldermen recently approved a lease agreement with Southern New Hampshire Services (SNHS) and Granite State Children’s Alliance (GSCA) earlier this month to repurpose what once was Hallsville Elementary School, a neighborhood meeting was scheduled to obtain feedback in advance of expected Planning Board and Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA) hearings related to the property.
While that meeting took place on Wednesday, only one neighbor showed up: Mary Roberge.
A direct abutter of the property, Roberge was the center of attention as Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig and over a dozen other elected officials, city staff members and non-profit group representatives related to the reuse of the Hallsville School were on hand to take her questions.
Roberge said she was concerned about a variety of issues about the proposal ranging from the modified traffic patterns and other cars on the property blocking her driveway and children entering her property to concerns about lighting, security and increased trash seen from pickleball players currently using the gym at the building through the city’s parks department. Pickleball and other programs would be another use of the facility moving forward.
The assembled experts appreciated Roberge’s concerns and tried to allay her fears. They indicated that there would likely be a 24/7/365 police presence at the new facility given GSCA’s partnership with the Manchester Police Department helping youth victims of crime, and that the traffic would likely be reduced in comparison to when it was an elementary school. They added that additional modifications to the building could be added before or due to the Planning Board and ZBA hearings, but asked her to have trust in the process as this is seen as the best possible repurposing for the school.
Roberge didn’t comment on her neighbors not attending the meeting, a stark contrast from a comparable meeting several months earlier. Ultimately, she just wanted to make sure her voice was heard when it came to changes that could impact her property.
“I have concerns, I’ve learned to speak about what bothers me and see if there are any workable solutions,” she said. “None of us have a crystal ball. I think I heard some ideas here and we’ll see how the project develops.”
Despite her concerns, Mary praised Ward 7 Alderman Mary Sullivan-Heath for her outreach efforts and organization of the meeting.
Sullivan-Heath was frustrated that more people did not come to the meeting, but understood that the weather and other factors could have kept people away and was appreciative of Roberge’s feedback.
Sullivan-Heath also spoke to the importance of the proposed reuse of the building during the meeting, calling it the best of all worlds given the value the proposal would bring to senior citizens, children and residents looking to participate in Parks Department programs.
“We could have torn this building down and put something else here, but I think we are honoring the value of this building and the spirit of the Hallsville School within it.”