LACONIA – City Hall would be sold, municipal offices would move to Holy Trinity School and the City Council chambers would fill St. Joseph Church under a committee suggestion presented Monday.
The idea is at an early stage, but it is serious enough that City Manager Scott Myers and the Rev. Marc Drouin will meet next week to discuss it.
Patrick Wood, an attorney who is chairman of the Downtown TIF Advisory Board, said he knows of someone interested in buying the current municipal building, located at 45 Beacon St. East, and converting it to a use that would not be parking intensive. He did not release a name.
Proceeds from such a sale could pay some of the costs of moving city offices to the church complex at 30 Church St., comprised of St. Joseph, the school and the rectory, which is the John W. Busiel House and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
As part of consolidation plans, St. Andre Bessette Parish intends to move the school next year to the former convent at Sacred Heart Church.
It also plans to sell St. Joseph Church with deed restrictions prohibiting the buyer, or subsequent owners, from putting the property to a series of uses the diocese deems inappropriate. If the property doesn’t sell, it could ultimately be demolished, although members of the congregation and the community have expressed wishes that the neo-Gothic building, constructed in 1929, be preserved.
“I think one of the big advantages is that it would save that historic building from being torn down,” Wood said outside the City Council chambers. “If we could save it, that would be nice, because the option is that it’s going to get torn down. That’s not what a lot of us would like to see.
“Just the idea of having City Council chambers in that beautiful building would be really impressive.
“The other advantage is that you’d have a municipal campus then. You’d have the library, the City Hall and the municipal building all sharing parking and that would free up parking spaces north of City Hall for the businesses downtown.”
The Gale Memorial Building, which is next to the rectory, houses the Laconia Public Library. That Romanesque Revival-style building, which is also on the National Register of Historic Places, was dedicated in 1903.
“The church and the school will be vacant,” Wood said. “If we have an opportunity to put them to use for the benefit of the whole entire community, that seems like a plus to me.
“There are different aspects to it. It’s going to take a lot more planning and a lot more thought, but I think it’s certainly something that has merit being considered.”
Drouin said Tuesday he wasn’t aware of the proposal, but that he’s willing to discuss the idea.
“I’m willing to meet with them and see what the intentions are of the city,” he said. “I represent the parish. I would see what the possibilities are and present it to my advisory bodies and the diocese.”
He said the church has not been listed for sale yet. Work is still being done on the new location for the school.
Funding would be an issue to be resolved if the plan is to move forward.
“Part of that is not only the cost of the renovation and the move, but also dealing with the current City Hall structure,” Wood said. “So if we can figure out a way to make money come in from the sale of this building, that would help with those renovations and that would be a plus, but it wouldn’t cover the entire cost of it.”
If the proposal were to come to fruition, it could free up some downtown parking as municipal employees would use surface lots at the church complex.
This could give the city more time to decide what to do with its dilapidated parking garage, which has a third floor closed to cars, Wood said. One possibility would be to remove that floor.
Some of the garage beams have had to be shored up. Water from the structure leaks into commercial spaces and some vehicles can’t fit up the ramps, including tow trucks and fire engines. The turning radius for some of the spots is very tight.
Private businesses own property on the ground floor of the garage, so the city can’t just tear it down without major complications.
Estimated costs for a full upgrade of the parking structure total about $4 million, but updated estimates will now be sought, including costs for doing just a portion of the work, City Manager Scott Myers said.
He also suggested that another way to allow more parking downtown would be to create angled spots on Beacon Street East and Beacon Street West, instead of the parallel parking that now exists.
This could have the additional benefit of slowing traffic that sometimes speeds through the area, Myers said. This suggestion will also be studied.
State Rep. Charlie St. Clair, who owns a downtown antiques business, said he doesn’t see traffic speeding in the area. He also said it is difficult to back from angled spots into traffic.
Myers said the city of Concord recently created many angled parking spots and it seems to be working.