Though Canterbury is a relatively small town at 2,352 citizens, SMP’s project with them to reimagine the downtown was, in many ways, one of our most ambitious. Many municipal buildings were outdated and sharing space, as well as vying for budgetary dollars. In addition, emergency services shared the town green with a bandstand, the beloved village general store, and a church. When an emergency call came in, it was, at best, inconvenient for the responders—and, at worst, a general public hazard. As we studied the problem as a whole, a large cornfield across from the school about a quarter-mile from the center became available. The building needs committee was in favor of developing a comprehensive plan that moved all the pieces on the chessboard while keeping everyone up and functioning.
SMP developed a two-step approach to the problem. First, a new safety building, comprising the police, fire, and highway departments would be built on the cornfield site. These departments could share certain facilities, and the placement would move emergency traffic and operations out of the town center. When this portion was complete, the vacated buildings would be renovated to become the library, selectmen’s meeting rooms, historical society archives, and a public function space in the old town hall.
The initial concept for the cornfield site broke the three departments into separate “lobes” that met in the shared portion of the facility. The fire department was treated in a straightforward way to look like a rural barn. We were convinced that the stock vertical siding for the “barn” would work from the public road 100 feet away, but, nonetheless, we struck a deal with the Historic Commission to hold money in reserve for wood clapboards if they found it necessary once the building was put up. They didn’t.
The whole kit and caboodle was put before the Town of Canterbury at their town meeting in 2003. It was a scary proposed bill for a small town, but one resident summed it up by saying, “Well, it’s a lot of money, but it makes sense do it all at once. I’ll vote for it if you guys don’t come back to bother me for anything for another 25 years.” The vote passed, land was purchased, and construction began on the first phase.
With the Safety Building complete and the departments relocated, we had to take on the old garages on the town green and the new library location. SMP’s approach was to re-face the building with a large welcoming porch that eliminated the garage association. When we presented the librarian with a picture of the total makeover and showed that the raw space available was even more than the recent addition the Town had voted down, the tide turned.
Canterbury chose to combine highway, police, and fire/rescue in one building, sharing functions and common spaces, to save initial costs and future operating costs. Eric was able to bring all parties together and satisfy their diverse needs with calm reasoning and good humor…. The reality was more than I ever hoped for.
Fire Chief, Canterbury