Ad hoc committee going down other path on jail planning

LACONIA — While the Belknap County Commission continues to plan for construction of a new county correctional facility, some members of the Belknap County Convention have begun exploring alternative mean of addressing the shortcoming of the county jail.

Representatives Bob Greemore (R-Meredith), Richard Burchell (R-Gilmanton) and Mike Sylvia (R-Belmont), together with David DeVoy of Sanbornton, who ran unsuccessfully for the commission in 2012 , and George Hurt of Gilford, a former state representative, have been meeting as an ad hoc committee to consider how to ease the most severe shortcomings of the existing facility.

"The commission is going down one path," Greemore said yesterday, "and we're saying no, no no. We understand there is a problem and we want to solve it," he stressed, "but not with the Cadillac of all jails."

In a letter printed in yesterday's edition of The Daily Sun, in quintet presented five options, in no order of preference, aimed at improving conditions for housing women, who are held in attic with inadequate heating and cooling systems and insufficient bathing and toilet facilities. They suggest building a free-standing pod as temporary quarters or a new wing separated from the main building by a fenced exercise yard or an extension on to the rear of existing jail. Alternatively, the county commissioners and administrators could be relocated to rented space until a wood frame building could be built to house them and their original quarters occupied by women inmates. Or, the county could lease space on the site of the former Laconia State School from the state to house female inmates.

"Each option will have strengths and weaknesses," the group wrote, "and these, together with associated costs, will to be weighed."

Burchell said that the county convention is concerned by the deficiencies at the jail and the lack of progress in addressing them. He said that the commission has spent "several hundred thousand dollars on analysis and planning" and presented a plan for a new facility estimated to cost $42.5 million that met with widespread disapproval. "The commission has not given serious thought to alternatives," he said. "We are where we are because of the actions and inactions of the commissioners."

"We have to do something," said DeVoy, who intends to run for commissioner again. "If I am elected this is something I'd have to deal with. To make happen.
The commissioners can't seem to get the ball moving."

Burchell said that the ad hoc committee came together for lack of a formal means of participating in the process. He said that the Jail Planning Committee convened by the commissioners included "stakeholders," who he described as "everyone who had a stake in building a new jail. The stakeholders didn't include the convention or John Q. Public." Although the committee has since been expanded to include members of the public but not of the convention.

Burchell recalled a meeting of the county convention in August when Representative Lisa DiMartino (D-Gilford) wondered what role members could play in the planning process, he suggested forming a study committee,. But, he said he was "shot down" by Rep. Frank Tilton (R-Laconia), who said that planning county facilities was not the responsibility of the convention.

Greemore said that he and his colleagues have been through the jail, some more than once, and met with Dan Ward, the Superintendent of the Corrections Department. "We've done a lot of homework, individually and together," he said. "We're trying to get a dialogue going with people outside the Jail Planning Committee to see what we can to get this thing moving."