Three Claremont development projects receive regional grants

By PATRICK O’GRADY

Valley News Correspondent

Published: 08-30-2023 4:45 PM

CLAREMONT — Three different development and revitalization projects in the city have been awarded more than $1 million in combined grants from the Northern Borders Regional Commission’s Catalyst Program.

Melissa Richmond, founder and executive director of the West Claremont Center for Music and Arts, said that organization’s $444,400 grant from NBRC will be used primarily for a new roof on a historic three-story brick building on Opera House Square next to the Farwell Block that is being renovated to house WCCMA’s new education center.

“It basically opens the door for us getting the 2,500-square-foot education center on the top floor going,” Richmond said Tuesday. “The new roof will protect work we have done, and it improves the structural integrity so we can add solar, which will be important for the operations of the building.”

Renovations to the first floor, which started last year, are continuing, and Richmond said she is hopeful the 80-seat performance venue will be ready for programming later this fall. Work that still needs to be done include fixing the floor, adding an alarm system and installing emergency lighting.

WCCMA currently holds performances in the Union Church in West Claremont, but it could be in a new space later this year.

“If we can meet our occupancy goals, we believe we can start with some strong programming in November,” Richmond said.

The building was originally a bank in the early 1900s and has been vacant since last being used as a restaurant in the 1990s. It is being transformed into a multi-use cultural center with a commercial kitchen.

Valley Regional Hospital

Valley Regional Hospital received a $500,000 grant toward renovations of a 5,500 square foot building next to the hospital that will become short-term transitional housing for up to eight healthcare workers.

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Alan Owens, Valley Regional’s senior director of facilities and support services, said the brick building at 241 Elm St., was built in 1908 and is the oldest building on the hospital’s campus.

Owens said the first and second floors will have two apartments each with bathrooms and kitchens and the third floor will have dormitory-style housing, for up to four workers, and a bathroom. Presently the upper floors are vacant and the first floor has massage therapist offices, which will be relocated, Owens said.

“We are pretty excited about this as we have a real need for this type of housing,” Owens said.

According to the grant application, the housing will improve the hospital’s employee retention and recruitment efforts. Close to 40 applicants have accepted and then withdrawn from employment offers at the hospital because they could not find housing, the application states.

“Potential applicants are not seeking higher wages, they’re seeking a place to call home while working in their healthcare career,” the application states.

Claremont Opera House

The Claremont Opera House grant of $128,360, mostly for lighting and sound improvements, will be another piece to a three-year plan to upgrade the venue’s infrastructure, Felicia Dalke, president of the Opera House Board of Directors, and Scott Hagar, executive director of the Opera House, said.

Previous grants were used for a new projector screen and other upgrades including assisted listening devices. Hagar said further enhancements to the infrastructure will eliminate the need to spend between $1,500 and $3,000 for some shows.

“We will become more self-sufficient and energy efficient with LED lighting,” Hagar said. “The whole emphasis of the project, which started with the movie screen projector, is to make it a better place to perform so performers will want to come back and to improve the performance value for patrons.”

Further, by having a more modern venue it will create rental opportunities from outside groups and generate new revenues, Dalke added.

NRBC awarded $750,000 to Green Mountain Economic Development Corporation Project that will be added to other federal and state sources for the renovation of a vacant two-story building in Randolph “into a childcare center and serving as a work-based learning center to support workforce development for the early care and education (ECE) industry.”

Erika Hoffman-Kieff said the project’s estimated cost has increased to $6 million but she is confident they can bid the project in the fall and open late next summer. The facility will be in a two-story, 10,000 square foot building for up to 88 children preschool to kindergarten, Hoffman-Kieff said. The building was purchased using an earlier NBRC grant and the renovation will take it down to its framing, she added.

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at pogclmt@gmail.com