EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

May 1, 2013

Community function room closes abruptly

Loss of function room has people scrambling

By Alex Lippa

---- — ATKINSON — An engineer called problems in the function room at the Atkinson Community Center “immediate and severe,” Selectmen’s Chairman Bill Friel said.

Selectmen yesterday closed the popular site, leaving many groups and individuals in the lurch. That includes people who had reserved the space for wedding receptions and graduation parties, groups that regularly meet there and more.

Recreation director Noriko Yoshida-Travers spent most of yesterday calling people to tell them the bad news.

“We have at least one function a weekend,” she said. “Wedding receptions, graduation parties and many other functions were all supposed to be here.”

Significant renovations are needed, including a new floor and replacement of a failing oil burner.

“We talked to the structural engineer and he deemed it to be unsafe,” Town Administrator Bill Innes said yesterday. “We want to close it so we can start to fix some of these things.”

At a recent event, Innes said, he noticed the floor bouncing while people were walking on it. He called in an engineer.

After selectmen reviewed the engineer’s report Monday evening, they realized the extent of the problems.

“We thought we’d be able to get another year or two out of the oil burner,” Innes said. “It’s only six or seven years old, but it’s leaking.”

Friel agreed the safety of the residents is the top priority.

“I just don’t think it’s something we can ignore when the engineer’s words are ‘immediate and dangerous,’” he said.

The community center was built in 1914; the function room was added about 50 years ago. The closure only affects the function room. But that affects a lot of people.

Yesterday, Evelyn Tallent shook her head at the empty room.

She had just finished cleaning up after the spring dance for LifeShare, a group for adults with disabilities. The dance will be the last event in the function room for months.

“We have something here every week,” said Tallent, a life coach for LifeShare. “We have no idea where we’re going to go now.”

Lifeshare also holds a cooking class there every Tuesday.

“This is one of the only places large enough to accommodate the group that we have,” Tallent said.

Town officials have other problems, too — they have to figure out how to pay for the repairs.

Innes said the town has more than $30,000 in the budget which will allow them to replace the oil burner, as well as replace support columns and the building’s gutters.

But the floor, which Innes estimates will cost between $45,000 and $50,000, will require the town to be a little more creative.

“The town has $20,000 in the police chief’s salary that has not been spent,” Innes said at the selectmen’s meeting. “We also have about $35,000 left in the winter highway budget that was not spent as well.”

Innes said it will be at least a few weeks before the request for proposals goes out. After that, he estimates it will take at least a month to complete the work.

Some groups are scrambling to find alternate sites, but some already have done so.

The Atkinson Lions Club was supposed to host its Citizens of the Year ceremony at the community center Sunday. The club was able to move the event to Atkinson Congregational Church, thanks to the Rev. Paul Dionne, last year’s award recipient.

“We’re very fortunate we were able to reschedule this,” said Tom Cunningham of the Atkinson Lions Club. “That’s just good small-town America for you ,with people working together.”

But the club’s bean supper on May 18 may not be so lucky.

“There is nothing firm on that right now,” he said. “We may have to postpone it.”

The Atkinson Women’s Civic Club planned to host part of the townwide yard sale at the community center on May 18, but that remains up in the air as well.

“It’s sad to see,” said Town Clerk Rose Cavalear, also a Civic Club member. “A lot of people use that for many things. The community is going to miss it.”