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North Country Center Aims Toward 21st Century

Q. What's more than 100 years old, has 100 pairs of phone lines, about 9,000 square feet and will help pilot the North Country into the 21st century?

A. The North Country Community Development Center, located in "The Ledges", a completely renovated, 111-year-old cottage complex at the Rocks Estate in Bethlehem.

Two years ago, Preston Gilbert, Director of the North Country Council, launched an exploratory process to determine the future of the 23 year-old agency. This effort identified a regional need for public-private partnerships that would promote the region as a whole, rather than as a fragmented collection of independent entities. The creation of the new campus at the Ledges is the first exciting step in this initiative.

The North Country Community Development Center will cluster several interactive agencies under one roof. For example, the Industrial Agent for the NH Department of Resources and Economic Development (DRED) and the regional office of the NH State Library have moved on campus. The Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests (SPNHF) is a presence -- it operates a Christmas tree farm at the Rocks Estate. And of course the NCC, with its 43 member towns and wide array of regional activities, has been resident at the Ledges since October 1995.

The North Country Council wants the Center to encourage multi-faceted partnerships that address regional planning and development issues. For example, the Center is expected to host a Business Resource Center and an Interactive Television (ITV) site. Educational programs will fit into the scheme, as well as private sector programs that can benefit from such a multi-faceted "campus."

"The goal of the Center," says Gilbert, "is to consolidate resources -- educational systems, technical assistance, data, reasearch, demonstration projects, and communications facilities -- in close proximity so that partnerships among the local business community, government bureaus, educational institutions, and area service agencies can be more easily developed."

Located at the junction of US 302 and I-93, "The Rocks" is the former estate of the Glessner family, principals of the International Harvester corporation, who purchased the land in 1883. In its heyday 70 years ago, the farm was both a gracious summer residence and a demonstration site for agricultural technology. Since 1978, the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests has owned a 1200-acre remnant of the estate, including "The Ledges," a rambling cottage complex that overlooks the Jefferson Highlands and the Presidential Range.

When the NCC completely refurbished the Ledges last year, it upgraded heat, electrical and phone systems so that the Center can participate in the latest computer and telecommunications applications. Spacious conference facilities, a well-equipped kitchen, and a comfortable lounge area allow the Center to host meetings and functions that further the goal of partnership-creation.

Speaking at the North Country Council annual meeting in November, NCC President Peter Powell of Lancaster compared the historical role of the Rocks and the future role of the Ledges this way:

"Just as the Rocks Estate was a demonstration site and experimental center for agricultural technology, the North Country Community Development Center will be a demonstration site and experimental center for public-private partnerships. This fine facility, so rich in North Country heritage, will draw on the best of our regional traditions while sharing the knowledge and resources needed to see the North Country safely into the twenty first century."

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Copyright 1997 by Ed Sanders.