Expanded Listen Facility Under Construction in White River Junction
Bobby O’Connor, left, and Pat McNamara of Cretepavers Inc., work on the foundation for the new Listen Center building in White River Junction yesterday. The new building will include a commercial kitchen, dining hall and renovated thrift store. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)
The Listen Thrift Store in White River Junction is closed while construction is underway for a bigger facility. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)
An artist’s rendition of the River Point Plaza site. (Courtesy David Laurin)
A artist's rendering of the Listen Community Building currently under construction in White River Junction. (Courtesy David Laurin)
White River Junction — The River Point Plaza was the domain of backhoes, bulldozers and excavation and foundation workers yesterday. A large pile of gravel, pieces of rebar and a freshly-paved oval could be seen from Route 4, where traffic runs back and forth to West Lebanon across a temporary bridge over the Connecticut River.
Merilynn Bourne, executive director of Listen Community Services, hopes a dramatically different view will greet drivers by August, when her organization is scheduled to open a new $2.1 million building on the site. The 10,600-square foot structure will house a new thrift store, a kitchen and dining facility and room for Listen’s teen center, which is currently located in rented space at 18 North Main St.
A dilapidated strip of former retail stores on the Listen-owned site has been torn down to make way for the ongoing project. However, the structure that remains and which until earlier this year served as a Listen thrift store, will be remodeled and connected to the new building. Workers there will accept, sort and store donated clothing and household items for the new store.
“This will ensure the viability of Listen,” said Bourne, whose 40-year-old organization is funded by private grants, monetary donations and sales of donated items. “The larger thrift store will become our sustaining mechanism. As retail revenues increase, so can the level of what we can provide.”
The new store will be 4,000-square feet, double the footage of the store it is replacing, Bourne said, adding that shoppers should also notice a drastic difference in ambiance. Inventory from the old store is currently being offered at Listen’s North Main Street outlet , in the building that once was occupied by the 25,000 Gifts & Woolens store.
“People were always saying it was so cramped in there,’’ Bourne said of the River Point Plaza location. “Now, we’ll have a place that’s much better lit and larger. It will be easier and more pleasant to move around in.”
The new building will include a commercial-grade kitchen and an adjacent dining hall, totaling about 3,000-square feet, where Listen’s Community Dinners program will be headquartered.
Currently, Listen prepares six community meals per week and roughly 16,500 per year offered on a rotating basis at Canaan’s Mascoma Senior Center, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in White River Junction and the United Methodist and Sacred Heart churches in Lebanon.
(Listen will continue to stage a community dinner at 5 p.m. on Mondays at Canaan's Mascoma Senior Center once the new River Point Plaza location is built.)
“The people who come to those dinners almost all seem to be coming in cars, so transportation doesn’t seem to be much of an issue,” Bourne said, noting that River Point Plaza is on a bus route and that the new dining hall should seat between 85 and 100 visitors. “Otherwise we would be more worried about moving the dinners out of Lebanon.’’
As many as 75 people show up for each meal, but the expectation is that more needy families and individuals can be fed with the new, larger space. Having a permanent site will also reduce strain on volunteers, who for 28 years have had to carry-in and carry-out almost everything they need to make and serve meals. Broken or undersized appliances and an inability to restock quickly if a food item runs out have also been issues.
“We’ve had to take our pots and pans and dishes with us,” said Bourne, who noted that another constraint is that some meals have to be served earlier or later than normal dinner hours because of conflicts with church events or remodeling projects.
“With the new place, everything in it will belong to us. We’ve been using paper plates and plastic (utensils) but now we’ll be more green, because we’ll use regular dinner wear. It also means we can have meals that better reflect the schedule of the people we’re serving.”
Another group that will benefit from the new building will be the more than 200 kids and teens served weekly by Listen’s teen skills center, known as “The Junction.” The organization currently pays roughly $14,000 annually for rented space on South Main Street, funds which Bourne looks forward to shifting to pay for various programs.
“This will be a better space, rather than having the kids downtown,” she said. “If they’re out on the sidewalk there, people feel uncomfortable about that. In the new space, our abutters are a river, a park, (Route 4) and a railroad track, so we have a little more privacy.’’
Two years ago, Bourne worried about how the construction of a permanent, Route 4 bridge across the Connecticut would affect sales at the River Point Plaza thrift store. However, that project isn’t slated to begin until late summer at the earliest, said Alan Hanscom, an engineer with the New Hampshire Department of Transportation’s District 2 office in Lebanon.
David Laurin, a White River Junction architect and former Listen board member who designed the new building, said only a small corner of the parking lot will be affected by the eventual bridge construction.
“Not at all,” Laurin said when asked if that project would impede traffic into Listen’s refurbished site. “All we’ll have to do when they’re done is finish some pavement and curbing.”
Laurin noted that with the new building running parallel to the Connecticut River in front of it and to a set of railroad tracks behind it, the site is more accessible to adjacent Lyman Point Park.
That L-shaped park, which includes a bandstand and playground, sits on the opposite side of the railroad tracks from Listen’s new construction and wraps around its southern end to the confluence of the Connecticut and White rivers. A pedestrian underpass to the south of both the Listen site and the Hartford Municipal Center allows park-goers to move between either side of the tracks.
“It opens up the whole site to the two rivers,’’ Laurin said. “People who want to go down to them can use it for parking on the weekends when the store is closed.”
Laurin said his design is “highly energy efficient,” with specially-glazed windows and LED lighting for which Listen received financial assistance from the nonprofit Efficiency Vermont organization to offset the cost.
“Their life far exceeds anything else you can buy by thousands of hours and the operating cost will be a lot less,” the architect said.
Bourne said Listen has thus far raised $1.2 million of the $2.1 million cost of the new construction. She said she’s committed to opening by late next summer and that Listen will take out a loan to do so if necessary. Trumbull-Nelson Construction of Hanover is the project’s contractor.
“This is going to happen,’’ she said. “I have a number of irons in the fire, working with corporations here and there and looking for larger grants. Whenever I get to talk to anyone and show them the plans we have, they’re excited to get on board.”
Tris Wykes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3227.
CLARIFICATION & CORRECTION
This article has been amended to correct earlier errors. The following clarification ran in the Wednesday, Nov. 28 edition of the Valley News:
Listen Community Services will continue to stage a community dinner at 5 p.m. on Mondays at Canaan's Mascoma Senior Center. The organization, which does not currently have a central kitchen, will have one along with a dining hall in its new River Point Plaza building in White River Junction. Listen hosts six community meals per week at halls in Canaan, White River and Lebanon, serving an estimated 16,500 diners a year. A story in yesterday's edition was unclear on these points.
The following correction ran in the Sunday, Dec. 2 edition of the Valley News:
Architect David Laurin is a former board member of Listen Community Services. A story in Tuesday’s Valley News about the construction of a Listen building in White River Junction that Laurin designed misstated his connection to the nonprofit group.