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The plan for a park to replace the Labine Building, above, shows the park as seen from above with Ledge Street running along the right side of the park and Pine Street along the bottom.
Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Park is start of Tree Streets refurbishment

NASHUA – More than a year after the historic Labine Building was gutted by a five-alarm fire and later demolished, the city hopes to complete the park that will take its place by the end of the summer.

But the as-yet unnamed park is just one part of the plans that officials have for a large chunk of the city’s Tree Streets neighborhood. It’s a good time to take a look at the area, they say, since other major projects that will affect the neighborhood, including the Broad Street Parkway, are already underway.

City planning officials will host two community meetings this week to unveil the design of the new park at the corner of Ledge and Pine streets and to gather input on what improvements are needed in that part of the city.

The first meeting will be at Ledge Street Elementary School on Wednesday afternoon, and the second will be at Palm Square on Thursday evening.

The half-acre park will be nestled in the corner of Ledge and Pine streets and will include a number of walking paths dotted with Nashua’s distinctive triangular manhole covers, said Kathy Hersh, the city’s community development director.

Around 10,000 bricks from the Labine Building are still on the site and will be incorporated into the low wall that will encircle the park.

In addition to plant and rock landscaping, the park will include a large concrete play area along Ledge Street that will be flooded in the winter for ice skating.

Along Pine Street will be a pair of large climbing rocks linked by sets of ropes, a lawn space and a large granite fountain, Hersh said.

A number of benches, tables for checkers or chess, and misting rocks will be scattered throughout the park, as well, she said.

The city is spending $465,000 to build the park, plus $154,500 to buy a house on Pine Street owned by Gate City Fence. Construction will take four to six weeks, and it can start as soon as the sale of the house is finalized and the building is demolished, Hersh said.

The Labine Building fire broke out early Sunday morning, Feb. 7, 2010. No one was hurt in the blaze, but it displaced the residents of eight apartments on the second and third floors, and Club Social and P&J Mini Mart on the first. Investigators attributed the fire to faulty wiring.

The 1900 Labine Building sat on what was known at the beginning of the 20th century as the Labine block, an area at the heart of the city’s manufacturing past. An example of Romanesque Revival architecture, the building housed the second social hall built in the city’s downtown and served as the symbol of French Canadian economic power during the textile mill era.

The park will be near a new gateway to the city after the Broad Street Parkway is constructed, city officials said. The parkway, which would link Broad Street near the F.E. Everett Turnpike with downtown, is expected to be completed in 2014.

The area planners are focusing on stretches from West Pearl, Central and Ledge streets in the north to Kinsley Street in the south, and from Eaton Street and the east edge of Woodlawn Cemetery in the west to Elm Street in the east. The borders capture a long stretch of West Hollis Street and the rail trail, along with densely populated side streets, including Chestnut, Palm, Vine, Beech, Wilder and Pine streets.

At the community meetings this week, four stations will be set up at which residents can talk to planners about open spaces, transportation and parking, housing and crime, and commercial centers and economic development.

A fifth station will be set up as a mapping exercise at which people can mark specific areas in the neighborhood where different issues – be it parking or a dangerous intersection, Hersh said.

“It kind of gives them a way to think of their neighborhood in a different way,” said Camille Pattison, a Nashua Regional Planning Commission principal planner.

The input from the meetings will be combined with in-depth demographic research that planners are also doing, all with an eye toward better targeting city and nonprofit services and giving developers an idea of what’s needed in the neighborhood.

“You start to get an understanding,” Hersh said. “You get to know the neighborhood. It’s always important to have a plan to what you want to accomplish.”

City planners have developed similar plans for Main Street and a stretch of East Hollis Street following the citywide master plan in 2001, Hersh said.

A focus of the Tree Streets neighborhood would likely never have happened without the forethought planners are trying to develop, Hersh said.

When the Batesville Casket Co. left 55 Palm St., planners knew they wanted the building to remain a commercial anchor and central to the neighborhood. They were able to work with the developer, and now the building, Palm Square, houses a restaurant and meeting room on the first floor and 140 apartments on the second and third floors.

“It’s just a beautiful centerpiece for the area,” Hersh said.

Joseph G. Cote can be reached at 594-6415 or jcote@nashuatelegraph.com.