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Thursday, August 14, 2014

Nashua contemplates building new public health facility downtown, costs to exceed original budget

NASHUA – After a lengthy search to find a new home for Nashua’s public health department, city officials are evaluating a plan that could provide a new facility for critical city staff while also helping to redevelop one of Nashua’s downtown neighborhoods.

The Board of Aldermen is considering a resolution that would authorize the city to acquire the property at 11-13 Mulberry St. to become the future home of the Division of Public Health and Community Services. ...

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NASHUA – After a lengthy search to find a new home for Nashua’s public health department, city officials are evaluating a plan that could provide a new facility for critical city staff while also helping to redevelop one of Nashua’s downtown neighborhoods.

The Board of Aldermen is considering a resolution that would authorize the city to acquire the property at 11-13 Mulberry St. to become the future home of the Division of Public Health and Community Services.

The city would acquire the land and building on the property from Iglesia Pentecostal Y Misionera Inc., a religious mission, for the price of $355,000.

The purchase would be the first stage in an ambitious plan to tear down the existing warehouse facility on the site and build a new two-story building, which would be available to both city workers and some local nonprofits focused on helping Nashua residents.

The cost of the project will likely exceed the $1.2 million that was previously bonded for new health department facilities, according to city officials. Mayor Donnalee Lozeau said the city hopes to be able to use tax credits and, potentially, fundraising by nonprofit partners to help offset the cost.

“I had looked at this piece when I found out it was on the market, and this was just the perfect opportunity to be able to do this,” Lozeau said.

Situated on the corner of Elm and Mulberry Streets, the property is located across the intersection from the existing health department offices at 18 Mulberry St. It is surrounded by a city parking lot, making it appealing for a new municipal facility, and potentially detracting from the value of the property for any other entity that might be interested in buying it.

“The city owns all of that land that’s already there, so it makes it hard for them to sell it to somebody else unless the city was willing to look at selling some of that lot, and I don’t think the city would want to do that, and so this is (an) opportunity where the church can be helped, the city can be helped and we have public health still in a key location,” Lozeau said.

The city is tentatively exploring designs for a two-story, 20,000-square foot building along Mulberry Street, half of which would be occupied by public health staff and the remainder of which could be shared with nonprofits.

A portion of the money for the project would come from an account set aside in 2009 for the acquisition of a public health building. The city had bonded $1.2 million for the project.

Now dotted in graffiti, the worn-down building at 11-13 Mulberry St. traces its history to 1925, when the owners of the former Nashua Baking Company designed it to be a deluxe replacement for the wooden building they had acquired on the grounds six years earlier.

The company, which marketed its products under the “Country Club” label, operated a wholesale bakery that was at one time the largest and most successful in New Hampshire, eventually expanding its reach into Massachusetts, Maine and Vermont.

Today, the many of the factory building’s windows are boarded up, and the aging structure is in need of renovations. Lozeau said the necessary repairs are likely greater than the mission can manage.

The last recorded transaction for the 0.4-acre property occurred 20 years ago, when it was purchased for a price of $295,000, according to city assessing records. The most recent assessment pegged the price of the 1920’s-era warehouse building and surrounding land at $637,300.

The public health department has long sought to relocate from its current home, which was formerly a religious school. The city’s Capital Improvements Committee previously identified finding a new space for the department as one of the city’s essential priorities.

The department’s functions include providing emergency services through welfare support and inspecting and licensing food service establishments through an environmental health wing. It also provides community health services, such as immunizations for children and adults, and also holds educational programs around the city.

The Division of Public Health and Community Services has about 30 staff members, bolstered at times by per diem workers. Director Kerran Vigroux said the current facility presents a range of challenges, such as problems with heating, air circulation and leaky roofs. Another drawback is a lack of handicap accessibility.

Vigroux said the city hopes to design a new building with clinic space and two separate labs – one for environmental health concerns, capable of processing water samples, and a second, biological lab to process samples taken from humans.

The city has identified two potential nonprofit partners to move into the new building: the Child Advocacy Center of Hillsborough County, which provides a neutral environment for child victims of sexual assault to be interviewed and supported during an investigation; and the Greater Nashua Dental Connection, a longstanding city organization that provides dental services on a sliding fee scale.

Jim Haddadin can be reached at 594-6589 or jhaddadin@
nashuatelegraph.com. Also,
follow Haddadin on Twitter
(@Telegraph_JimH).