Conway Community Building

The Conway Community Building, seen on Wednesday. Now that it no longer is the home to the recreation department, selectmen are thinking of selling it. (JAMIE GEMMITI PHOTO)

CONWAY — With the opening of the new recreation center at Kennett Middle School last month, Conway selectmen decided Tuesday to ask staff to look at selling the rec department's former home in Center Conway.

Options mentioned for the Conway Community Building ranged from senior housing to a brewery.

Last year at Conway Town Meeting, voters approved moving the rec center from the community building and approved spending $700,000, with $350,000 pledged by Sut and Margaret Marshall to cover the renovations needed to turn the unused portion of the middle school into a new rec center, including restoring an old gym built in the 1930s.

At a $1-per-year lease, the department takes over roughly 22,000 square feet, or 13 percent of the 173,722-square-foot school building, in a section that was mothballed after Kennett High School moved to its new building 12 years ago.

The old Community Building at 1634 East Main St. in Center Conway lacked potable water and had heating, electrical and ventilation issues for the past three years.

In addition to being used as a teen center and a rec center, the town also used it as a polling place for years. The property is about 4.3 acres.

Town Manager Tom Holmes said he had been gathering ideas and options for the old rec building. He said he consulted the Center Conway Precinct commissioners and a majority of that board gave their blessing to sell it.

"Basically, it comes down to whether you want to sell it or not and whether you want to sell the whole thing or part of it or not and how you want it to be used," said Holmes, adding that the selectmen could subdivide off the ball field land if they wished.

Some ideas that were put forward included making it a new town hall (at present, the plan is to move the town hall into the Bank of New Hampshire building in Conway Village). Other ideas were to use it as storage for public works, using it for an art center, turning it into a new police station, as well a making it a Cal Ripken baseball facility, fitness center, early education center or Montessori school, senior center, town swimming pool, tennis courts, homeless center or sports museum.

Holmes also asked the selectmen to consider whether they should have the community building demolished before it goes on the market or if they want to sell it as is.

But he reminded them: "We really can't do anything until we find a polling place."

Later in the meeting, Holmes said he is working with SAU 9 Superintendent Kevin Richard to see if they can use Kennett High for the presidential primary next February.

"The secretary of state has not confirmed (the date) because they have to make sure Utah doesn't jump in front of us or something," said Holmes, adding that Richard said he was 75 percent sure he could accommodate any date that is needed.

The school district is "willing to cooperate for the presidential primary and probably the election in November. As far as town meeting stuff, we haven't broached that subject at all," Holmes said.

Selectmen's chair David Weathers said the thinks it "would be a good building lot" based on location and ability to be built on. He favored putting it on the tax rolls.

Selectmen voted 4-1 with Selectman Carl Thibodeau in the minority for town staff to look at the feasibility of putting the property out for sale.

Selectman Mary Carey Seavey said she would like to see it used for senior housing. She called for the selectmen to hold a charrette on the subject.

In an email, planner Tom Irving told the Sun said whether it would be profitable to turn the community building into housing would be a question for developers. 

"From a planning and zoning perspective, the subject 4.3+/- acre property is permitted by right a density of one dwelling unit per acre or four dwelling units," wrote Irving. "If it was developed as a unit subdivision with four detached single family dwellings, each detached single family dwelling could potentially get approvals for an accessory dwelling unit; for a total of eight dwellings on the property.

"Alternatively, there is a special exception for up to eight dwelling units per acre in the CCVC, and this property could be a candidate for that special exception. With that special exception the potential number of dwelling units could increase to (8 x 4.3 = 34) 34 units."

Holmes, in response to a question from Seavey, said Avesta Housing Development Corp. of Portland, Maine, recently walked away from building a 30-unit senior housing development off of Banfill Road. Holmes said Avesta has said they would be interested in the old rec site if the town were to sell it.

Holmes also said the Mt. Washington Valley Housing Coalition could do the charrette.

Selectman John Colbath said he didn't think the property could support enough housing units to make it financially viable. He didn't think the location was close enough to the downtown.

He voted to put it on the open market.

"A brewery inquired about the property," said Colbath. "Who would think a brewery would go there?  I don't think we know what could go there."

Selectman Steve Porter said the property lacks water and sewer lines and that would have to be addressed if it were to be a housing development.

Weathers said the town should hold a charrette between now and the time Conway needs a new polling place. Weathers said he wouldn't want to keep the property long-term but he just wanted to get through 2020.

Holmes also discussed what's going on with moving the town hall into the Bank of New Hampshire building, which voters approved last year. The bank was to lease the building to the town and build a smaller branch on its property.

Holmes said there was an "impasse" between the town and the bank over drainage into Pequawket Brook but that has mostly been resolved. It will require a permit application with the state Department of Environmental Services. Selectmen voted 5-0 to write a letter of support for the bank if the bank wanted it.

"The bank hopes to break ground Sept. 1," said Holmes.

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