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April 03. 2013 8:41PM

Berlin officials laud community development projects

BERLIN - The state marked National Community Development Week by recognizing the projects that have improved residents' lives and strengthened communities.

Standing in front of the former Notre Dame High School, site of an assisted senior housing project, Chris Diego, general manger of the Mountain View Grand in Whitefield, said that National Community Development Week is "a time to recognize all the public-private partnerships that resulted in the creation of those projects with the greatest positive impact on our cities and towns."

The event was the third in a series this week to highlight projects across the state that have benefited from federal funding. In Laconia on Monday, U.S. Rep. Carol Shea-Porter highlighted the expanded nursing program at the Lakes Region Community College, and on Tuesday Gov. Maggie Hassan spoke at the Concord event at the Bindery site on Main Street.

"Community development agencies, like CDFA and our colleagues at New Hampshire Housing, bring together state and federal resources to help businesses, nonprofits and action groups," said Diego, who serves on the Coos Economic Development Corporation and on the board of the Community Development Finance Authority.

That collaboration is especially true for the renovation project at the former high school, where agencies - including CDFA and New Hampshire Finance Authority Housing - have helped local community activists look out for their neighborhoods and their neighbors.

Among those at the event were Mayor Paul Grenier, city planner Pam Laflamme, Mike Claflin, executive director of AHEAD (Affordable Housing, Education & Development), Christopher Miller of NHHFA, and Andre Caron, former Berlin housing coordinator and a participant in Project Rescue Notre Dame High School.

AHEAD is the developing agency for the Notre Dame project, which will renovate the old school rooms and former living quarters for nuns into assisted housing for seniors. AHEAD took over the project after Tri-Country CAP was unable to carry it out.

"If AHEAD hadn't done this, the next step was demolition," Caron said during a tour of the empty building after the short ceremony. The old school has been stripped of hazardous materials, thanks to federal and state grants.

In the North Country, community development agencies have brought resources to the Neighborhood Stabilization project in Berlin, brought in energy efficiency and renewable energy projects and upgraded senior housing developments in Woodsville, Lancaster, Lisbon and Northumberland, among other projects.

Funding cutbacks

In his prepared remarks, Diego said the funding programs preserve the New Hampshire Advantage. He noted that the federal Community Development Block Grant program and HOME Investment Partnership Program allocations are down, and that since 2010 the CDBG funding is down 24 percent, and HOME is down 45 percent, "taking resources out of communities when they're needed the most."

"Look around you and you will see here the many action groups, businesses and elected officials who've worked together on successful community development projects. They've seen the return on investment in their cities. Join us and spread the word that community development efforts strengthen New Hampshire communities," he concluded.

syoungknox@newstote.com



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