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LACONIA, NH: St. James agrees to sell to Boys & Girls Club

LACONIA, NH: St. James agrees to sell to Boys & Girls Club

March 28, 2013

The Vestry of St. James Episcopal Church has accepted an offer from the Boys and Girls Club of the Lakes Region to acquire the land and buildings owned by the church on North Main Street for the reported price of $700,000.

The announcement was made yesterday at a press conference at the church.

Cheryl Avery, executive director of the club, said yesterday that the transaction is expected to close sufficiently before the last day of school to enable the club to offer its summer programs at its new home. Beyond confirming that club has a balance of approximately $300,000 in a building fund, Alan Posnack, president of the club, declined to detail the financial arrangements, but said that a three-phase capital campaign would be launched once the club has moved.

"The church is not the building," said Jeff Pearson, senior warden of the church. "St. James is not closing. We will be directing our energies to pursuing our mission instead of maintaining a building." He stressed that the St. James Nursery School and Hands Across Table, a program that feeds those in need once a week, will not be affected by the change of ownership. The church, which itself has held services at several locations during its long history before building on North Main Street in 1964, Pearson said will remain a presence and force within the community.

Avery said that the transaction originated with Alan Robichaud of Granite United Way, who spoke with the church then approached the club. After Posnack and Walt Flinn, who chairs the club's facility committee, met with Pearson and members of the Vestry, the deal came together relatively easily and quickly. "The church has been most gracious throughout," said Flinn. while Pearson remarked that "it's been a good experience with the Boys and Girls Club and we're excited to see the building being put to such a good use."

The church provides 14,000-square-feet of space between the ground floor and half-basement and sits on a 1.3-acre lot together with a 3,000-square-foot bungalow that is unocupied at present. The city assessed the value of the property at $1,139,500 in 2012.

Avery said that the church is is "an ideal location" for the club, not only a stone's throw from Laconia Middle School and less than a mile from Laconia High School but also across the street from Opechee Park, with its beach, track and playing fields. The building houses a fully equipped kitchen and provides sufficient space for a gymnasium as well as expanded programming for elementary and middle school students and dedicated space for teens. Avery said that the building can be remodeled and reconfigured with minimal alterations to include a cafe, game room, computer room and teen center. Architect Peter Stewart and NCM Management , Inc. have provided planning services. She estimated that the building would have capacity for between 150 and 200 children and teens.

The property includes an extensive parking area and a playground alongside the church. Anticipating that the parking area exceeded the needs of the club, Avery said that some of the land would be used to provide outdoor amenities. "There is lots of space to work with," she said.

The Right Reverend Rob Hirschfeld, Bishop of New Hampshire, said that for some time "there has been a spirit leading us to see that God's mission is outside our buildings." He said that the Boys and Girls Club is "doing God's work and doing it better than the churches are doing it." The sale of the church, he suggested, was an example of "new ways of defining our mission," adding that "the cost of maintaining the building has obstructed and hindered the mission of St. James." The church, said the bishop, seeks "to become much more a Christian movement than an institution."

The diocese, Hirschfeld said, must approve the transaction, but noted that when he broached the issue with the clergy of the diocese, "they broke into spontaneous applause."

Hirschfeld likened the position of the congregation of St. James Church to that of the Jews fleeing Egypt, recalling the parting of the Red Sea. He said that while the parting of the waves is widely deemed the miracle, rabbis teach that the real miracle was taking the first step. "St. James has taken the first step," the bishop remarked. "There will be some time in the wilderness."



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