Fuse box fire spreads through multi-family home on Messer Street

LACONIA — A rapid, efficient response by Laconia firefighters, assisted by crews from Gilford, Belmont, Tilton-Northfield, Meredith ,Sanbornton and Franklin, limited damage to a multi-family residence at 121 Messer Street, next door to Uniformly Yours, from a fire that started in the basement at about 3 p.m. and quickly climbed through the walls to all three upper stories. Firefighters had the scene under control in about 45 minutes.

Deputy Fire Chief Kirk Beattie said that Lieutenant Jay Ellingson and his crew from Central Station arrived to find fire in the basement and smoke on the upper floors. They quelled the fire in the basement, which apparently arose from the electrical panel. Told there were people inside, firefighters entered the building to find fire rising in the space between the exterior and interior walls characteristic of balloon framing. Beattie said there was fire in the walls, floors and ceilings on all three floors. Crews from several departments worked throughout the building, stripping the walls to find the fire and extinguish it. Two firefighters atop the aerial on Ladder One cut the roof, but as the fire below was contained found no need to open it.

Beattie credited the prompt arrival of companies from Laconia, including nine off-duty firefighters completing a paramedic class, Gilford and Belmont with preventing the fire from spreading further.

There are five units in the building, two on the ground floor and first and one on the third floor, with some eight adult residents, none of whom were injured. Most occupants found alternative housing, but the Red Cross and Laconia Police were seeking homes for two adults. Firefighters removed a caged ferret from the building, but a resident said that the whereabouts of a second ferret were unknown.

Beattie estimated the value of the damage to the building at approximately $50,000 and placed an equal value on the contents lost or damaged in the fire. The cause of of the fire remains under investigation.

Public hearing tonight for $8-million bond to build new county jail

LACONIA — Belknap County Commission Chairman Dave DeVoy says that a public hearing on a proposed $8 million bond issue to build an 18,000-square-foot, 64-bed community corrections center and make upgrades to the current Belknap County House of Corrections is in the process of being scheduled for October 27 at 7 p.m.
He said that he had talked with Belknap County Convention Chairman Frank Tilton (R-Laconia) about the date and says that the convention will meet on November 2 at 6 p.m. to vote on the bond issue, which will require a two-thirds majority from the 18-member convention.
At a meeting in early September, Belknap County Commissioners voted unanimously to support the plan developed by SMP Architecture of Concord, which calls for spending $7,171,928 for a community corrections center as well as $491,000 for upgrades to the existing county jail, which currently has 87 beds. County corrections Interim Superintendent Keith Gray said that parts of the current jail which are too difficult to renovate would no longer be used, leaving the current facility with a capacity of 60 inmates.
The proposed cost of the community corrections facility includes a $700,000 contingency fund.
Additional items were budgeted at $668,300.
Also included in the overall operating plan are security and program costs, which are estimated at $650,000 for hiring six additional Department of Corrections staffers and contracting with private firms to provide programs aimed at helping offenders deal with drug, alcohol and mental health problems before they are released into the community.
Kevin Warwick of Alternative Solutions Associates, Inc., a consulting firm hired by the county to develop programs for a community corrections center, has noted that Belknap County currently has the lowest staffing of any county jail in the state with only 30 staff members and a capacity of 93 inmates. Carroll County has 36 staffers with an inmate capacity of 60 while Grafton County has 54 staffers and a capacity of 115 inmates. Sullivan County, which served as a model for the plan developed for Belknap County, has a 56 staffers and a capacity of 95 inmates.
He and Ross Cunningham, who was corrections superintendent in Sullivan County when its community corrections facility was built, both say that doing nothing is not an option for Belknap County as the county faces the possibility of lawsuits unless its facility meets federal standards, which it does not.
DeVoy is chairman of the Jail Planning Committee, whose members include Warwick, Cunningham, Keith Gray, Interim Superintendent of the Belknap County Corrections Department, Deb Shackett, Belknap County Administrator; Dustin Muzzey, Belknap County facilities manager; Brian Loanes, director of the Restorative Justice Program, Nicole Mills and Tamara McGonagle, staff members at the Belknap County Corrections Department.

Muskrats sold, new GM named

LACONIA — The father and son partnership of Jonathan and Noah Crane that brought the Laconia Muskrats to Robbie Mills Field have sold their franchise in the New England Collegiate Baseball League (NECBL) to a trio of businessmen from Portsmouth — Ira Blumenthal, Todd Hewett and Andy Minckler. However, the Muskrats will remain in Laconia and Kristian Svindland, a longtime resident and business owner, will succeed Noah Crane as its general manager with responsibility for day-to-day operations.

Svinland joined Jeff Morin to form HRO Plus, a successful human resources outsourcing firm in 2004, played baseball at the Laconia High School and is a Red Sox season ticket holder. He said yesterday that he joined the board of directors of the Muskrats in 2014 and has hosted players for the past two seasons. He stressed that the new owners are committed to building a successful franchise in Laconia and chose a local resident as general manager to ensure that the team strengthens and sustains its relationship with the city and Lakes Region community.

Svindland said that his top priority will be to increase attendance, which has lagged behind that of most other teams in the NECB. He intends to seek more sponsors from among the relationships he has formed in the local business community. He also plans to engage the players in the life of the community, particularly the schools, by engaging in community service. And he has worked with the Tilton Sports Center to field a team of young players known as the "Junior Muskrats."

Svindland said that one of the first goals of the new owners will be to complete construction of the deck atop the wall in left field before winter. He noted that the NECBL this year voted Robbie Mills Field the best playing surface in the league, confirming what players around the league have known for years. "It is a tribute to Kevin Dunleavy and his staff at Parks and Recreation," he said.

In a prepared statement, Svindland said "this is a dream come true me. I love baseball and the city of Laconia." He confessed that is embarking on :"a big learning curve," but added that he has made a quick start. With Noah Crane lending a hand, the roster for the 2016 team is nearly complete. Likewise, with crane's help he has begun building on the relationships with the colleges and coaches whose players have stocked the rosters during the first six seasons.

"It has been a wonderful six years," said Crane. "We did some good things." He said that a number of players graduated to play professional baseball and several interns with the team find themselves working in professional baseball.

Acknowledging that attendance never met his expectations, Crane said he is confident the new ownership and management "will push the franchise to heights I couldn't get it to." He said players returned to their schools "with only positive things to say about the team, the league and the city," which will enable the franchise to draw the talent required to succeed.

Svindland is equally confident. "Laconia can do this," he insisted.