City Council gets mixed message on plan to rebuild Opechee Park House

LACONIA — City Councilors who questioned budgeting $110,000 to rebuild the Opechee Park House got a mixed message from residents at a public hearing last night.
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.
Tim Dunleavy, president of the Opechee Park Association, told the council that the group has not only maintained the park house for nearly 80 years, but also raised funds for equipment on playgrounds throughout the city. "It's your decision," he said. "We are not a demanding group. But, without the park house there is no mission for us." He said that before the building was found structurally unsound and closed in 2010 the association numbered about 25 members, but since has dwindled to a dozen.
"If you were born and raised in Laconia," Dunleavy said, "you've spent many hours in Opechee Park." He was echoed by Martha Chandler, who recalled attending any number of social and sporting events in the park, which she described as "a peoples' park. Yes," she declared. "It's worth the money."
Ward Peterson of Belmont and Sandy Grant of Gilmanton, speaking for the Belknap Bowmen, an archery club which has met at the park house for more than 50 years, said that without it they would have no place to go. The group holds indoor archery competitions and Peterson said the building was an ideal venue.
But, Tom Cosma said that since 1961, when the middle school was built, the park has been steadily encroached upon. With the park house gone, he said that the view of the park and the lake was enhanced. "I'm afraid of putting another thing up to plug up the park," he said. "I don't see this as a wise use of money."
Although he did not speak last night, earlier 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.