City Council defers decision on renewing offer for State School property

LACONIA — The City Council last night deferred a decision on resubmitting its bid of $2.16-million to purchase the former Laconia State School property off North Main Street pending more information about the costs associated with ownership.
City Councilor Matt Lahey (Ward 2) told the council that since the property was offered on the open market the state had not received a single bid and the deadline to sell the property passed on May 1. He explained that a bill is before the Legislature that would apply the statutory process for disposing of state property to the site, which could enable those opposed to its sale to withdraw it from the market or significantly increase the asking price. The fate of the legislation is unlikely to be decided before the close of the session in June.
In the meantime, the property remains on the open market. Lahey suggested the city renew its bid in order to secure its interest in the property. Under the current law, the decision to forward the offer to the Governor and Executive Council for approval would rest with the Commissioner of the Department of Administrative Services, who was originally instructed to sell the property.
Councilor Brenda Baer (Ward 4), who has questioned acquiring the property, said "I've never really heard the reason why we want to buy this property." She noted that the cost of addressing environmental hazards at only one of the more than two dozen buildings on the site is estimated at $200,000 and doubted the city could raise the funds to clean-up the property.
City Manager Scott Myers said that there are ways of maximizing funding format the United States Environmental Protection Agency, but acknowledged "it would not happen overnight and could take years." He stressed that if the city acquired the property, it would be required to address the environmental issues within a set period of time.
Mayor Mike Seymour replied that only by owning the site could the city control any development that might occur there. He described the purchase as taking a "defensive posture."
Lahey reminded the council that Risley Field, some 70 acres adjacent to the Robbie Mills Sports Complex, which the city currently leases from the state, is integral to the success of the complex. Cars are currently parked on that lot.
Councilor Henry Lipman (Ward 3) said that by controlling the future of the site, the city could expect to benefit for its redevelopment. However, he also asked for more information about the cost of clean-up and the availability of funding as well as the expenses that would arise from owning the site.