Officials Discuss Future of Green at Stevens Hall

CHESTER – What to do with the green space in front of Stevens Memorial Hall and a planned memorial were the subject of much discussion at the Thursday, May 30 selectmen’s meeting. The board met with members of the Heritage Commission at Stevens Hall to visualize the area and hear conceptual plans for a monument. Some of those plans have already caused waves around town and were a surprise to some of the selectmen. Despite the reported concern, aside from officials, just resident Barbara Dolloff was on hand to keep abreast of things.

Members of the Heritage Commission, represented Thursday by John Colman, Darrell Quinn, and Dean Leighton, have been brainstorming ideas for how a memorial to Chester’s founding citizens should look and sit in the space. Though initial plans were to create a three-sided granite memorial, new ideas and plans have expanded on that concept to a memorial that would become the centerpiece of a newly designed green.

Quinn had a black and white picture of how the space looked in the hall’s early days. It showed an evenly planned out open area with trees lining a walkway to the hall. Members of the Heritage Commission liked the well thought out nature of the space and how it’s concept made the area much more usable than what is currently there.

It was suspected that lack of maintenance for years and no definitive concept for the area had resulted in the current set up. There are two granite benches, one in honor of Dolloff, the Jacob Chase rock, a small garden created by the Girl Scouts and several trees of various size and shape.
The concept which has caused concern around town is the Heritage Commission’s suggestion to cut down all of the large maple trees and single fir tree to have a blank palate with which to work and improve. In place of the large trees (that members feel are dying because of large dead branches at their crowns) smaller, more easily maintained flowering trees would be planted.

New grass would be planted and the monument made the center of attention. Commission members felt that it would be a boon for drivers on Raymond Road to see the historic hall. Right now the building is almost completely hidden by leafy trees and commission members felt that it should be showed off more.
“I’m proud of that hall,” said Colman. “I think if you could see it you’d be even more proud of it.”

Selectman Joseph Hagan remarked later that he could see where the commission was coming from. “There are a lot of towns in New Hampshire that have beautiful buildings like this, and you can see them from the street. The trees here get in the way of seeing it from the street. So I understand why Mr. Colman and his commission are looking at removing the trees, particularly if a tree is not going to survive.”

The current plan for the monument shows a pathway from the Stevens Hall driveway out to a large ring interspersed with granite posts. Those posts would hold the names of those individuals who gave of their time and expertise to make Chester the place it is today. At town meeting voters approved $10,000 to begin work on the monument. Names and biographies for the structure and an attendant display within the hall are being researched and chosen by the Heritage Commission.

Selectman Jack Cannon was the most vocal detractor of the tree-cutting plan. Cannon stated that if such a move were made it had to be vetted by the residents, not just a small group of commission members or selectmen. Cannon stated that he was uncomfortable with how imposing the monument plan had become. Cannon voiced concerns about how the heritage commission’s plans were pushing aside what had been created on the green over decades.
Selectman Rich LeBlanc voiced similar concerns. Though stipulating that he wasn’t against the commission or their goals, he stated that what was being presented Thursday was much larger in scope than originally laid out.

“I understand what you’re trying to do John, but it’s just gotten out of hand,” said LeBlanc. Colman remarked that the plan was the result of contributions from all commissioners, and that it wasn’t feasible to come back to the board of selectmen every time a new idea was fielded. He remarked that the goal of the meeting Thursday was to keep the selectmen up to date. By the end of the approximately hour long meeting it was agreed that more planning needed to take place and more public input fielded.

The selectmen asked the heritage commission to brainstorm a few more ideas for the area so that officials and residents could choose among them.
Landau suggested a compromise between cutting some of the trees and making the monument less of a centerpiece. Plans are also to lay out with stakes the general footprint of the commission’s current plan so that residents can visit the hall and visualize what may happen. All are encouraged to visit, find out more, and let officials know what they’d like to see for the town’s central historic building.

“I just don’t want it to be a surprise,” said Cannon. “I completely agree,” said chair Steph Landau. Landau also agreed to have an arborist look at the trees so that the town could know whether they are truly dying as suggested by the commission.

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