Union Leader Correspondent

FRANKLIN — Those in the city who were saddened by the closure of the Bessie Rowell School three years ago might want to take a look at what’s happening at the historic building these days.

The building is now the Bessie Rowell Community Center, and it’s as busy, or busier, than ever, said Krystal Alpers, the city’s Parks and Recreation director. It is now home to the Parks and Recreation Department, the Tiny Twisters Day Care Center, and the city’s Head Start and Early Head Start programs.

The two-story brick building, which once housed 182 students, is now bustling with activity. The center also fosters good health and supports healthy eating and active lifestyle, or HEAL, practices.

“This is a building that sat unused, but in the past year we’ve turned it into a vital building again,” Alpers said. “There are so many things going on, it’s busy here until 9 p.m. on some nights.”

The school was built in the 1950s and was named after former principal Bessie C. Rowell in 1958. In 2011, facing a budget shortfall of more than $1.6 million, the Franklin School Board closed the school and lay off 25 employees.

Last March, Alpers and the other agencies began moving into the city-owned building. Staff members of the organizations also formed a HEAL-focused peer network group. This group meets on a monthly basis and is collaborating to improve their work in areas such as increasing physical activity and healthy food options, limiting screen time, as well as making health-focused environment and policy changes.

The HEAL group hopes to improve the quality of life of those using the center.

“Our local coalition continues to work towards the overall goals of the HEAL program, and certainly changing and focusing on policy and practice is what we’re aiming to do. We want to make change on a broad level,” said Melissa Rizzo, a Lakes Region General Hospital healthcare community educator and the Greater Franklin HEAL co-coordinator.

Staff members from the three organizations also attended training sessions focused on obesity prevention, role modeling and parent education.

The community center has a number of other healthy eating and active living initiatives in place, including a new natural playground and the Early Sprouts seed-to-table gardening curriculum. They also plan to add raised gardens and a mural depicting the center’s HEAL philosophy.

There is talk of holding an event for families and community members.

“This spring there will be a celebration event that will help bring awareness to the community about the initiatives focused on healthy eating and physical activity at Bessie Rowell Community Center. We want to let the community know that this place is about healthy families.”

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