Councilors question building new Opechee Park House

LACONIA — Although City Manager Scott Myers included $110,000 for the construction of a new Opechee Park House in his proposed 2013-2014 budget, at least two city councilors have questioned the recommendation to rebuild.
The house on North Main Street was closed in 2010 after it was found structurally unsound and subsequently demolished.
Councilor Henry Lipman (Ward 3), whose ward includes Opechee Park, suggested that before appropriating the funds the council sound the public on the issue to determine what he called the "community demand" for the project.
Councilor Matt Lahey (Ward 2) was quick to agree.
City Manager Scott Myers said yesterday that the issue will be placed on the agenda for the next regularly scheduled meeting of the City Council and urged all those individuals and organizations with an interest in the future of the park house to make their views known.
Kevin Dunleavy, director of parks and recreation, said that before requesting funding to rebuild the park house from the Capital Improvement Program (CIP) Committee he determined "there is sufficient demand for use of a park house and a strong enough organization to manage it to justify reconstruction."
The CIP Committee ranked the park sixteenth among its priorities.
Dunleavy said that the $110,000 represented the cost of materials, explaining that students from the building trades program at the Huot Technical Center, together with a number of contractors and tradesmen, have volunteered their labor.
Myers pointed out that the Opechee Park House served as a polling station for years before its closure. Since then voters in Ward 3 have cast their ballots at the nearby Middle School. Myers said that with rising concerns about the school security there would be advantages to returning the polling station to the park house.
The park houses were originally constructed by the city and leased to the park associations, which in turn rent them to civic and social organizations as well as families and individuals for meetings and functions. The associations apply the rental income to the upkeep of the park houses.
In 1996, the City Council adopted a formal policy by which "certain costs for the operation, maintenance and repair" of the park houses were shared between the city and the associations. Apart from a $2,200 annual allotment from the city, the associations are responsible for all utilities — heat, water, sewage, electricity and telephones as well as trash disposal. Generally the associations tend to interior maintenance and repair, including plumbing and electricity. Structural repairs, replacement of heating systems, along with plumbing and electrical fixtures, and exterior painting are the preserve of the city.
In their heyday, membership in park associations ranged between 50 and 100 and served as the social hub of close-knit neighborhoods. But, as alternative forms of entertainment have multiplied, demands on two-income households have mounted and bonds among neighbors have frayed, membership has declined.
Memorial Park, where the park house has been leased since the 1980s, has not an active association for years.  At Wyatt Park, also in the South End, the park house was closed in 2008 and later demolished and although improvements to the park are underway, they do not include rebuilding the park house. Despite recruitment efforts, the association at Tardif Park counts less than handful of volunteers.
On the other hand, the Weirs Community Park Association has invested in furnishing and equipping the Weirs Community Center — which is in the same building as the Weirs Fire Station. It hosts variety of functions, from social gatherings to business meetings. Moreover, with the design and engineering of the Weirs Community Park complete, the 2013-2014 budget includes a borrowing of $550,000 to construct the park, which will include a playground, walking trails, picnic pavilion, restrooms and amphitheater.
Likewise, an active association at Leavitt Park in Lakeport has maintained the park house, which remains a popular venue for meetings and functions while serving as a polling station, and enjoys a relatively strong financial position.