Community center panel recommends site near rotary

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WINDHAM — The committee tasked with exploring the possibility of a community center in Windham has settled on a site to recommend.

Community Center Ad Hoc Committee member Pat Moody told the Windham Town Council at its meeting Tuesday that the group has identified a roughly 24-acre parcel across from Hancock Lumber at the Route 302/202 rotary as the best available site already owned by the town.

When the committee made an earlier presentation to the council last fall, a 29-acre parcel near Manchester School was also in the mix.

Town Manager Tony Plante said Windham bought the property across from Hancock Lumber about eight years ago, and the town had already taken a “really preliminary look at the property” when exploring it in the past for a possible public works building, police or fire station.

He said that early exploration provided “enough to know how much of the property is easily developable,” and said a project on the site would still allow for expansion of the abutting Smith Cemetery.

Councilor Clayton Haskell wondered Tuesday night if the intent of the family that sold the property to the town was for the land to be used specifically for cemetery expansion only.

“I just want to make sure, because so many times things get sent off and the town buys them and stuff, and then the next thing you know, they’re doing something else with it other than what was agreed upon,” Haskell said. “I just want to make sure that we get everything dotted out that way.”

Town Manager Tony Plante said he would look into the sale details.

Moody said the next step in the community center process will be to engage an architectural firm to engage with residents and get a sense of “what does Windham want, what does it look like, where is is located, what are the functions of it.”

He said the committee has “ballpark estimates on what it’s going to cost to really give a vision to this” from three different firms.

“It’s a place for people to get together, it can support itself, so now we’re looking to take that next step and bring a firm into place that can help us put those figures to it,” Moody said.

Council Chairwoman Donna Chapman asked Moody and the committee to come back next week with the costs for each of those bids and a recommendation on which to choose.

Moody said the funding to hire a firm would come from the existing recreation impact fund.

“If you’re going to pick the high bidder, at least from my standpoint, I’m going to want to see why,” Councilor Tim Nangle said. “What makes these guys stand out above all the other two?”

Nangle also offered support for the idea of a community center.

“A community center could be so versatile, whether it be for adult education, cooking classes for kids I’m seeing in some cases, ability for us to bring seniors in for different kinds of activities, screenings,” Nangle continued, adding that it could also be used as a warming center location during power outages .

Councilor Jarrod Maxfield said he was initially hesitant about a community center because of other funding needs, but his thinking changed throughout committee presentations as he learns more what a center could bring to the town.

“I think it would be a regional center,” Maxfield said. “Really, Windham is the center of this region.”

Matt Junker can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or mjunker@keepmecurrent.com. Follow him on Twitter: @MattJunker

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