LEBANON – A new private art secondary school planned for downtown Lebanon has received approval for a permit it needs to occupy space on the pedestrian street, as well as a warm welcome from neighbors during a a Planning Board meeting this week.
Lebanon’s Planning Council’s unanimous approval of a conditional use permit for the New England School of the Arts on Monday night paves the way for the school to use 5,000 square feet of space at 9 Hanover St. , which is owned by Hannover-based HSD Inc., for its operations. It is scheduled to open in the fall of 2023.
Deputy Mayor Clifton Below, who manages the nearby building at 1 Court St., welcomed Etna residents Jennifer and Carl Chambers, who will lead the new school, to Lebanon, according to a recording of the meeting. Below noted that the school will be the fifth educational institution on the city’s pedestrian mall.
“I think it’s great utility,” Below said. It is “highly compatible with adjoining uses”.
The building at 9 Hanover St. currently houses the Women’s Health Resource Center on the first floor. It sits between the buildings that house the River Valley Community College and the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute in Dartmouth, and not far from the Ledyard Charter School and the Lebanon Ballet School. The space the chambers plan to use once served as offices for West Central Behavioral Health.
Bill Dunn, chairman of Lebanon’s Economic Development Commission, who also sits on the Arts and Culture Commission, described the location as an “ideal space” for the new school.
“It’s just going to make Lebanon the hub of the arts in all their forms,” Dunn said in the recording.
Planning Council members also praised the new initiative, but they had a few questions.
Thomas Jasinski, an alternate board member, asked the chambers how they plan to deal with parking, which he said “is often difficult downtown.”
Carl Chambers, who is now principal of Mount Prospect Academy in Pike, NH, said the new school plans to encourage its 50 to 100 students to use Advance Transit and rideshare. Per a request from the city’s planning department, Chambers said he plans to install a bike rack either on the pedestrian street or near the tunnel below.
Jennifer Chambers, choir director and music coordinator at Hanover High School, encouraged city officials to let them know if traffic becomes an issue.
“We can adjust what we do,” she said. “We don’t want to be a threat.
Other board members asked how the new school would be funded. Board member Kathie Romano asked if the private school would withdraw funding from public schools. Carl Chambers said “not unless they have a choice of school”.
Board member Laurel Stavis asked if the chambers plan to use vouchers from New Hampshire Education Freedom accounts to fund the school. The vouchers, which were created last summer, give eligible families access to a public education funding “savings account” that can spend about $5,000 on private school tuition, home schooling or tuition fees.
Carl Chambers said they were “looking more for scholarships” to fund the school. “We want to open the school to all students in the Haute Vallée,” he said.
The Conditional Use Permit is required as a secondary school is not a permitted use in the Downtown district of Lebanon. The Planning Board may approve uses outside of those permitted as long as they contribute to the vibrancy of the downtown core, encourage public presence and do not conflict with abutting uses, according to the included staff memorandum. in the Planning Board’s brief for its Monday meeting.
Jennifer Chambers said the school will need additional permits from the New Hampshire Department of Education and the Lebanon Fire Department before it can open.
“I think what’s so exciting (is) Lebanon seems to be hungry for a vibrant arts scene,” she said.
Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at [email protected] or 603-727-3213.