City Council gives final approval of School District's borrowing of $1.8 million

LACONIA — The City Council this week authorized the School District to borrow $1,828,000 in the form of a federal Qualified Zone Academy Bond, or QZAB, the proceeds of which will be applied to renovations and improvements at Laconia High School.

The vote came after a legally required public hearing was opened and closed without anyone offering testimony. The only dissenting vote came from Councilor Brenda Baer (Ward 4) who did not speak to the issue but had registered her objections before the measure passed at a first reading on Oct. 28.

The bond, which has a term of 23 years and bears no interest, will be repaid in annual payments of $78,260 beginning in 2015. School Superintendent Terri Forsten assured the council that the debt service would be defrayed with funds from the School District's annual operating budgets. In addition, funding requires a local match of 10 percent in cash or in-kind, which Ed Emond, business administrator of the School District would be met with contributions to the capital campaign initially launched to fund the expansion and renovation of the Huot Regional Technical Education Center and reconfiguration of the high school playing fields.

The funds will be used to address health and safety issues, including installation of a sprinkler system and air handlers as well as removing asbestos and radon gas. If there are sufficient funds remaining the electrical systems in most classrooms would be upgraded, the bleachers in the gymnasium brought up to code, emergency lighting replaced with LED units and the main entrance secured.

The QZAB is the second the School District has accepted in four years. Earlier the district borrowed $6.5 million as part of the $16.8-million financing package to undertake major improvements at the high school and Huot Center.

Laconia was the only school district in the state to express interest in the QZAB, which is awarded by the federal government and administered by the New Hampshire Department of Education. To qualify more than 35 percent of the students enrolled in the district must be eligible for free or reduced lunch, a threshold Laconia, where 53 percent of students qualify, easily exceeds.