HAMPTON, N.H. — Many of the things Hampton Beach was known for — long lines at the sparse bath houses, a single cluster of young people in front of those few bathhouses all near a crumbling Sea Shell Stage — may be distant memories state and local officials look to bring in the new, year-round era of “The New Hampton Beach.”
The $14.5 million project began as an effort to fulfill infrastructure recommendations made in the Hampton Beach Area Master Plan, a planning tool developed in 2001 and meant to look at ways to improve the area over the next 50 years. In 2003, the Hampton Beach Area Commission was formed and tasked with looking for ways to implement recommendations made in the master plan.
According to John Nyhan, the chair of the commission, one of the first recommendations implemented with help from the commission was completed in 2006 and involved constructing and improving infrastructure projects to make town owned roadways more accessible. The town of Hampton spent $12 million on road infrastructure roads in an effort to implement the recommendation. Another redevelopment project completed around the same time frame, according to Nyhan, was the updating of the police station, which fulfilled another recommendation made through the master plan.
One of the major aspects mentioned throughout the master plan was the need to not only increase tourism along the beach area over the next 50 years, but to make the overall area a better place for year round residents to live. Therefore, one of the recommendations mentioned in the master plan was the need to do a “facelift” to the state park area, including the stage, which according to Nyhan, “was falling apart.”
The old sea shell stage was built in the 1960s and had experienced much use and exposure since it was constructed, both from beachgoers and the wind and sand that is natural to the area. The New Hampshire State Parks, in concert with the town of Hampton and the commission, held a series of public hearings and workshops to determine what residents and beachgoers believed was missing from the current beach set up. According to Nyhan, one of the biggest things that was evident in many of the public hearings was the lack of restrooms along Hampton Beach.
What resulted from the public hearings and through two years of construction was an entirely new Ocean Boulevard on the State Park side of the street. Two new bath houses were constructed on the south and north sides of the beach, while another set of bathrooms, open year-round for the first time, were constructed in the middle of the two main houses. Connected to these year-round bathrooms is a tourist information center, administrative offices and a brand new conference room with gorgeous views of the ocean and the beach.
On Friday, Jude David, Events and Facilities Manager for New Hampshire State Parks gave Foster’s a tour of the new Sea Shell Stage, which was developed to be far more than just one entertainment stage. According to David, the stage contains state of the art sound and lighting systems, as well as a brand new hardy wooden floor and walls.
On either side of the stage are stone pathways to two additional staging areas that frame a covered “cocktail party” area that faces the ocean. According to David, the demand to rent the new area has been higher than expected, especially for weddings. David said many of the people seeking out the space to host their wedding have some sort of tie to the beach, either through travels as a child or young adult, and want to celebrate those memories with family and friends through their wedding. The “cocktail party” area also has a couple steps leading down directly to the beach, allowing a smooth transition from the actual ceremony to the celebration afterward, according to David.
Many new features were constructed within the sea shell building in an effort to give those performing on the stage and those working on the beach amenities to complete their job to the highest level. For example, bathrooms and changing rooms were added near the stage for performers to get ready in. In the past, according to David, performers were spending as much time singing as they were dodging bird poop in the open preparation areas.
Male and female locker rooms and an indoor first aid station were added for the benefit and use of the beach’s life guards. The first aid station is located on the bottom floor of the complex and contains furniture and tools to treat a variety of medical situations from heat stroke to scrapped knee. Another new element of the building to be used by the beach lifeguards is an indoor beach post. According to David, a head life guard will at this post and watching the beach and water for potential danger. If he or she were to notice any danger, they would contact the on beach lifeguard via radio and inform them of the danger. David said this process will allow staff to make the beach much safer.
David said one of the main goals of the redevelopment was to help turn Hampton Beach State Park into a year round destination — not just a summer retreat. David said Hampton Beach had all the ingredients to be a great location and now she feels like those ingredients are finally being mixed together to create a stellar project.
“It’s great to see it reach it’s full potential,” said David.
However, although the State Park has taken a huge step forward and fulfilled many of the master plan’s recommendations, there is still work to be done.
According to Nyhan, the commission is trying to identify funding so the town can redo all of the paving on Ocean Boulevard. The road currently has seven plus layers of paving, making it higher than the sidewalks. This situation causes drainage of rain or ocean water to flow right into the businesses on the west end of the street. Nyhan said although a lot has been accomplished, there is still more left to do, including improvements to transportation, traffic flow and parking.
The public will get a chance to enjoy the new facilities for the first time at the ribbon cutting and grand opening on June 1 and 2.
(c) 2012 the Foster’s Daily Democrat (Dover, N.H.)
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