Meeting on redevelopment of Manchester school draws lone neighbor to listen

Nov. 21—More than a dozen Manchester officials and nonprofit staff held a neighborhood meeting last week to answer questions and update abutters on plans to redevelop the vacant Hallsville School.

Just one neighbor showed up.

Mary Roberge, a direct abutter of the property on Jewett Street, asked questions and offered comments and concerns with a proposal for the site from Southern New Hampshire Services (SNHS) and Granite State Children's Alliance (GSCA) that includes creating 20 units of affordable housing for seniors, an early childhood classroom, and a Child Advocacy Center, operated by Granite State Children's Alliance, offering services to children who have experienced trauma.

But without other neighbors in attendance, the session wrapped up in about a half hour.

"I'm a little disappointed that the turnout from this neighborhood is me," said Roberge. "I really thought there would be other people coming."

In the proposal from Southern New Hampshire Services and Granite State Children's Alliance, organizers describe their plans as a "benefit to the neighborhood and the city, while addressing critical needs in the area of affordable housing for seniors and services for children and families in need."

The proposal calls for a child care or Head Start classroom serving income-eligible families with children ages 3 to 5. The Granite State Children's Alliance (GSCA) will operate a Child Advocacy Center (CAC) providing essential services to child victims of crime and their caregivers as well as multidisciplinary partners in law enforcement, prosecution, and Division for Children, Youth and Families (DCYF).

There will also be 20 apartments for income-eligible seniors in need of affordable housing, with 10 apartments each on the second and third floors.

The site will feature 54 parking spaces, consistent with senior housing and daily commercial office use, and include the appropriate handicapped parking ratio required.

Under the terms of the proposal, the city will retain ownership of the buildings and lease them for approximately $1 per year for 30 years to SNHS and GSCA, with the organizations responsible for redeveloping the space, paying the utilities, and paying for regular maintenance.

The city's Parks & Recreation Department will retain use and management of the gymnasium on site for community events, including the pickleball league that operates on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Roberge said she had concerns over the project eventually ending up as homeless housing. Officials assured her that wouldn't be the case, and they wouldn't locate a youth services center alongside a homeless center.

Roberge said it makes her sad to think about how Hallsville School was allowed to fall into disrepair and neglect over the years.

"It's a very beautiful building," said Roberge. "I am going to be a nosy neighbor...anything that goes on in the neighborhood, I'm going to look. I don't want to see this building neglected and I don't want to see it run down any further."

Roberge said she also has concerns about traffic in the area.

"I just want to be able to feel safe," Roberge said. "I want to be able to get in and out of my driveway. I want to be able to come and go. It's tight enough now, so this is a concern. I want to be able to get off my street — when I was working full time, granted when the school was there, it took me a half hour to get off my street because of the traffic there."

Because the properties are located in the R-2 Zoning District, the proposed uses of child counseling, elementary education, and dwelling units in the building's upper stories would require relief from the Zoning Board and approval from the Planning Board.

"It's a vacant building right now, and we're putting it to very good use," said Mayor Joyce Craig. "We all have to trust that we are moving in the right direction. The use of this building as proposed is really good."

The final bell rang at Hallsville in June 2021, 130 years after it opened. Former Superintendent of Schools John Goldhardt recommended the school be closed as part of the Fiscal Year 2022 budget.