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Manchester's restored Odd Fellows Hall finds new life

New Hampshire Union Leader

November 24. 2013 10:06PM
The restored woodwork is impressive to see during Thursday's open house for the Community Resource Center at the renovated Odd Fellows Hall on Lake Avenue in Manchester. (Thomas Roy/Union Leader)

MANCHESTER -- The fourth-floor ballroom of the 100-year-old Odd Fellows Hall was once again filled with the sounds of a lilting piano and the hum of dozens of guests on Thursday.

It was the building's official "open house," after a $3.4 million city renovation transformed it into a resource center for immigrants and the needy. The building first opened in the spring, but only recently has been fully occupied.

The Odd Fellows Hall now houses the Manchester Community Resource Center, the Way Home, the Organization for Refugee and Immigrant Success and a police substation.

"I think it's so important to bring all the community agencies together," said Renie Denton, the MCRC's executive director.

"We're able to provide services to the Hollow, after it has been ignored for so many years," Denton added, referring to the center city neighborhood where the building is located and where many refugees and low-income people reside.

Historic rebirth

The four-story building is at once state-of-the-art — with glass doors, a computer lab, an open reception area — and filled with original fixtures, such as mahogany beams, wainscotting, and a sliver-embossed tree design on the wall of the fourth-floor ballroom. Many of the details were intact, but sealed behind walls and drop ceilings.

The event, billed "A Historic Rebirth," was well attended by city officials, department heads, police, and people who use the services at the building, including a group of Bhutanese young people.

"This brings the community together," Mayor Ted Gatsas said. "This shows that collaboration in funding projects works."

Among the aldermen on hand were Ed Osborne, Ward 5, Jim Roy, Ward 4, Phil Greazzo, Ward 10, and Bill Shea, Ward 7.

"I think it's wonderful," Shea said. "To see the enthusiasm of the neighborhood, and we're keeping in focus a building that didn't have to be demolished."

Greazzo added, "It's a good example of what can be accomplished when people can work together."

Denton, the MCRC director, said she felt the building manifested the spirit of the Odd Fellows, the venerable fraternal organization dedicated to doing altruistic work.

Odd Fellows' mission

One of the people on hand for the event was Edward Russell, a longtime member of the Odd Fellows who remembered well when the building served as the group's lodge.

He said he was proud to see groups dedicated to helping others as the new tenants. "They're doing exactly what we did — helping the underprivileged," Russell said.

Muktar Edhow, the executive director of the Organization for Refugee and Immigrant Success, said the building was both affordable for the group and centrally located.

"Ninety percent of the people we help live around this area," he said. "They like the environment of the building, and we can refer people to other agencies."

The city restored the building in two phases. In 2010 to 2011, it used $1.3 million in a federal Neighborhood Stabilization Program to buy the building, install an elevator and interior stairs, replace the roof, restore the brick exterior and make structural repairs.

Starting last November, the second phase started, a $2.1 million project that opened up bricked-over windows, replaced worn electrical, heating and plumbing systems and renovated the interior.

Federal grants, private donations, tax credit financing and unused bond proceeds were used to pay for the project. The Concord construction firm Milestone did the work in about six months, a short time of completion that was noted by many at Thursday's event.

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