2015 Plan NH Merit Awards
Plan NH believes that what we build, where we build, and how we build have an influence on the health and vibrancy of a community.
One part of our mission is to raise awareness of that link – within professionals in the building industries, and within communities themselves.
We do so by championing Smart Growth and Livability Principles, Social Responsibility, and creative approaches to collaboration and cooperation.
One way we do that is by showcasing outstanding projects that reflect the mission and spirit of Plan New Hampshire through the Merit Award program. Each year, Plan NH calls for nominations, and from those submitted, a jury selects those that are truly outstanding.
Recipients of the 2015 Merit Awards are:
Opportunity Networks, Amherst NH
Owner: Opportunity Networks
Opportunity Networks serves Souhegan Valley and Greater Nashua assisting young adults and adult residents who live with acquired and/or developmental disabilities. After more than 30 years at their location at 11 Caldwell Road in Amherst, their building was in dire need of both physical and aesthetic improvements. Further, the organization wanted to expand their capabilities to provide state-of-the-art services and to be a model for other organizations.
Building on Hope is a community partnership program comprised of builders, architects, designers, materials vendors and others who come together as volunteers to provide physical improvements for facilities owned and operated by nonprofit organizations. They chose Opportunity Networks as its project for 2015, and in a barn-raising fashion, provided the improvements so desperately needed.
The jury saw this as a great example of social responsibility as well as collaboration and cooperation – and how determination and will can make things happen. They liked that so much was pro bono, and that the work highlights and supports people who are less visible.
Enterprise Center at Plymouth
Owner: Grafton County Economic Development Council
The Center is an incubator providing leased space, mentoring and networking opportunities supporting entrepreneurs, small business owners and economic development in central New Hampshire. The building is brand new, sitting on the site of an old, unused facility “pinched between a railway lin, etwo streets and a traffic circle.” The site was deliberately chosen as it is close to the PSU campus, making it walkable for interns to get to internships offered by the tenants of the Center, as well as for faculty to get to the center and to downtown.
The Center is a response to a huge demand for not only space, but assistance services, and the number of entrepreneurs looking surprised even the project partners. Currently, there are five companies leasing all of the available space, with a total of 20 employees and plans for more. In addition, the Center is home to an enhanced outreach effort by PSU staff and graduate students offering services similar to those provided to the current tenants – an incubator without walls.
The jury liked that this is located downtown, so that it is easily accessible for businesses, students and mentors alike. The collaboration between PSU and the Grafton County EDC is exemplary. Said one juror, “The ethos of Plan NH is reflected in this project.”
Senior Living at Notre Dame, Service-Enriched Community Housing
Owner: Senior Living at Notre Dame, LP, c/o AHEAD, Inc.
Here are 33 fully accessible, subsidized apartments for senior living, with associated community living spaces and dining, in what was once Notre Dame High School in Berlin, a building of historical significance to the community. Taking advantage of myriad funding sources, Affordable Housing Education and Development (AHEAD) carefully and thoughtfully preserved and rejuvenated this property – following the National Park Service Guidelines for Historic Preservation. The property remains not only significant to Berlin, but its revitalization is sure to give new life to the neighborhood surrounding it.
In the words of the nominator: This project epitomizes a collaborative team approach to good planning and design development with a significant impact to a burdened community.
The jury gave this project high marks. It is a great re-use of an old building, they felt, and the project enhanced and uplifted the neighborhood and built environment around it. Managing multiple funding sources is no easy task, but these folks showed that with determination, it CAN be done. The project has both symbolic AND tactile value, and the jury hopes that this will be a catalyst for more great things in Berlin.
Labrie Family Skate at Puddle Dock Pond
Owner: Strawbery Banke
When Strawbery Banke was approached with an idea to create a seasonal skating rink in the middle of the museum grounds, they thought it was a wonderful idea- a classic New England activity which would bring life to an otherwise quiet museum during the winter months. Committees were formed, plans began … and so did public outcry. Noise and traffic concerns by neighbors led to legal battles that delayed the project.
But supporters persevered, and positive energy trumped the naysayers. Funding and design and building were all donated by members of the community The rink was built in fall of 2014 and opened December 15. Open until mid-March, the skating rink drew 20,000 visitors, including skaters as well as dog walkers and other spectators who simply love to watch. And there was not one complaint from neighbors.
The jury thought this was a great story of a community that came together and stood up for what it wanted. The collaboration, the pro-bono work, the creative design that enables the site to “disappear” after March, and other great attributes all contributed to the earning of a Merit Award. And really cool: the image of folks walking through town with skates over their shoulders looking for a place to eat and grab a drink after an afternoon on the ice.
State Street Utilities Replacement and Streetscape Revitalization
Owner: City of Portsmouth
When the time came to finally replace the aging infrastructure underneath historic State Street (from Pleasant Street to Marcy Street), Portsmouth realized it could upgrade the pedestrian experience along this corridor as well. That led to looking at the Complete Street model: when a street or road is built or re-designed, it takes into consideration all ways that it may be traveled, and designed for them. Here, it meant foot, bicycle and vehicle.
Once the major route to Maine, this section of State Street is now a major destination in and of itself. Improvements include wider sidewalks, bump-outs to slow cars and trucks, and sharrows to underscore that bikes are part of the transportation system here. In addition, the utilities project included state-of-the-art design techniques.
The jury thought that this was a forward-thinking projects with changes that make sense. They felt that the process could be inspirational to other communities, and recognized that its success was due to many factors, including working closely with impacted business-owners. The Complete Streets philosophy is key to a walkable downtown or neighborhood, and serves as a catalyst for social, economic and environmental health and vitality.
New Hampshire Community Planning Grant Program
(Note: there is no owner of this project. The beneficiary is the State of New Hampshire.)
A $1 million grant from HUD was used by NH Housing to make 46 competitive matching grants “to communities throughout the state to develop and adopt locally-conceived land use regulations that foster the principles of economic, social and environmental sustainability.” Basic assumptions were that most land use decisions in the Granite State are local, that most communities have strong visions and master plans to support them, but lack resources or experience to implement them and finally, that it is critical to have public input in discussions of regulatory change, “especially those groups of people who do not typically participate in the planning process.” The program further assumed that plans were in place – that now it was about regulatory implementation of those plans.
Different approaches to planning, outreach to foster participation from diverse groups of citizens, encouraging new ideas were all given support. As a result, more than 75% of the initiatives have been adopted by voters. Longer-term results will be seen in the years ahead, and will be measured by “shifts in how development occurs in the communities that changed their land use regulations, and then in differences we may see statewide over the long run.”
The jury saw this as a transcendent project that underscores and highlights the role of regulatory planning in creating healthy and vibrant communities. Moreover, the project intended that the communities not be siloed in their work, but that they share information with others. Decisions may be local, but most issues are common. Decisions may be local, but often have regional impact. This project broke down the walls created by “me”, and created an open “we.” It is a shining example of how collaboration and cooperation can benefit everyone as they work towards healthy and vibrant communities across the Granite State.