Recreation Director Proposes Move In Lebanon
Lebanon — The city’s recreation director yesterday pitched a proposal to relocate his department to the old Seminary Hill school as an opportunity to create a center of gravity for young people in need of a place to go.
Speaking at a joint meeting of the City Council and School Board last night, Recreation and Parks Director Paul Coats spoke about how youngsters and others “with too much time on their hands” often loiter in Colburn Park, a pattern that has raised concerns among some in the city.
“The overwhelming message becomes, ‘We don’t want to be a burden, we don’t want to be a problem,’ ” said Coats, relaying his talks with those who linger near Colburn Park. “But what they do say is, ‘We just want a place to hang out. We want a place that we know is okay for us to hang out ... We have no other place to go.’ ”
Emphasizing the need for the city’s recreation department to reach youths who might not play sports, Coats continued, “We want to be able to catch these kids at earlier ages when they get into that position of, ‘Where am I going to go and hang out?’ ”
Coats hopes that the old school building on Seminary Hill, a historic landmark for the West Lebanon community built in 1901, could serve as that venue for the city. He announced that the department is working to launch a nonprofit group called “Friends of Recreation” that would help raise funds to make the switch possible.
The Lebanon School District moved into the building earlier this month, and is working on a legal process to settle questions surrounding the property’s ownership, but rumors of the old brick schoolhouse hosting the recreation department, as well as a performing arts center, have long circulated in the city. Coats framed the mission as building a “community center” that would have a little something for everyone: young, old and in between.
For that to happen, many pieces still need to fall into place. Superintendent Gail Paludi anticipated it would be about six weeks until the district receives architectural drawings for its planned renovation of the third floor, which would then serve as a permanent home for the administrative offices. School Board Chairman Jeff Peavey said that the topic would come up at the next board meeting, and proposed forming a committee with members of the board and city councilors to move the process forward.
The most obvious question still to be decided is how the city’s recreation department would pay for occupying the space. As it stands now, the department is located rent-free City Hall.
Peavey said last night that, at least for him, it wasn’t a question of the department necessarily paying rent, “but how we can share the cost of operating the building and doing future upkeeps.”
“That’s where I think we need to have members of both sides sitting on one joint committee to see how it works,” he said.
City Manager Greg Lewis said that the funding of operating costs for the department would have to be part of the budget process, and would also need to rely heavily on private fundraising.
“Management’s position is that all the things that need to be done can’t be done on the property tax system; it just can’t happen,” said Lewis. “ ... And the cavalry is not coming from Concord or (Washington D.C.), and since the cavalry’s not coming, it has to be done on the local level.”
Lewis referred to the city’s libraries as a model for the department. Lebanon’s libraries have a Board of Trustees, which underwent significant fundraising campaigns to raise enough money for the Kilton Library in West Lebanon.
Linda Preston, a Lebanon resident and athletic director at Lebanon Middle School, was fired up about the proposal, describing herself as “passionate” and “emotional” about the prospect of a community center on the West Lebanon hillside. She referenced the meeting’s agenda, which referred to the recreation department as “potential Seminary Hill tenants” in the discussion’s title.
“It isn’t just a tenantship, it isn’t just a rental,” Preston said. “It is an investment in the children of our community, in the adults of our community, and you know what? Lebanon is going to come through. Lebanon’s going to be able to do it.”
Ben Conarck can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3213e_SClB