PORTSMOUTH — A local resident wants to turn the former Elmhurst School chapel into a film and music production studio, while another has proposed to transform it into a “community civic center.”
It may be too late for either idea, however.
The Town Council Nov. 25 voted unanimously to demolish everything north of the music room at the former school, closed since 2010. The includes the chapel, which some in town had hoped to preserve for use as a performance space.
The demolition plan was contingent on contractor JR Vinagro Corporation’s ability to get the building down and the property cleared in time for the Glen Manor House’s first spring rental, scheduled for May 3, 2014.
In a Dec. 4 letter to Town Council President James Seveney, Town Finance Director David Faucher said preliminary indication from a Vinagro representative is that the work will be done by the original completion date of April 1, 2014. That seems to indicate the council will go ahead with its plan to demolish the building, including the chapel.
The town had advertised for requests for expressions of interest (RFEI) on the chapel before the vote on demolition. It received two responses, which the council will consider — along with Mr. Faucher’s update from Vinagro — at its meeting Monday night, Dec. 9.
In a Nov. 27 letter to Mr. Faucher, resident John Vitkevich, a former member of the Elmhurst Planning Committee, requests to negotiate a long-term lease for the chapel.
“Due to the Elmhurst chapel’s unique design and high roof line it can be re-purposed as a film/music production studio,” Mr. Vitkevich stated in his letter. “The acoustics cannot be duplicated in Portsmouth and the high roof line allows for the cameras, lights and booms to be out of the camera frame.”
Mr. Vitkevich, who worked with a film crew at Glen Farm for two days in 2006, said Portsmouth is an attractive place for movie-makers. “Examples are Glen Farm, Glen Park and even Glen Manor in the winter months or any of our 53 miles of the Portsmouth coastline,” he said.
Mr. Vitkevich said this re-use of the chapel would not adversely impact the operations of the Glen Manor House next door. In his letter, he also advised the council not to rush into demolishing the chapel.
“Once the Elmhurst chapel is demolished, it is gone forever. The same could have been the fate of the Glen Manor House. However patience, perseverance and preservation saved the Glen Manor House,” he stated in his letter.
Community civic center
The town received one other RFEI, from Allen Shers, a longtime Realtor. In a letter to Mr. Faucher, Mr. Shers said his proposals are predicated on the town’s school administration building relocating to the perimeter areas of the chapel, an idea that had been floated by School Committee Chairman David Croston.
Mr. Shers said the chapel could be used as a “community civic center” for seminars, meetings, educational courses, book readings, historical events and other programs.
Mr. Shers submitted a separate proposal for the former school’s music and art rooms, which he said could be used for business development and job creation.
For both proposals, Mr. Shers is seeking a 10-year lease with options for more.
Monday’s meeting begins at 7 p.m. at Portsmouth Town Hall, 2200 East Main Road.