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Hathaway report pessimistic but Heritage group not giving up

LACONIA — A report on the future of the Hathaway House prepared by Maggie Stier of the New Hampshire Preservation and Steve Bedard of Bedard Preservation of Gilmanton concludes that "In our estimation, savings this building by moving it to a new location and investing more than half a million dollars in its rehabilitation is not a viable proposition at this time."

Nevertheless, after reading the report at its meeting yesterday, the Heritage Commission agreed to pursue a private developer or investor willing to acquire, move and renovate the Italianate home, which was built in 1872 by Samuel Clark, a prominent lawyer. "I'm not willing to give up looking for a developer," declared Pam Clark, who chairs the commission, "and Charlie (St. Clair) certainly isn't."

Stier and Bedard estimated the cost of moving and renovating the building would fall between $563,400 and $751,200, adding "our estimate for a building of this age, type and condition would be at the higher end of that range." The estimates exclude the cost of a new lot for the building.

In September, Cafua Management Company, which purchased the property in 2000, applied for a permit to demolish the Hathaway House, lending urgency to the effort to preserve it. After meeting with Greg Nolan of Cafua, to discuss alternatives to demolition Clark recently acknowledged that if the building was to be preserved, it would have to relocated. The entrance to the Dunkin' Donuts outlet next door runs within 10 feet of the front door of the Hathaway House, effectively foreclosing prospects to convert the building to a either a residential or commercial use at its current location.
Last month Stier and Bedard visited the property where they found the exterior in poor condition but the finishes and features inside in sound condition and the floor plan largely unaltered. Because the building is not of post-and-beam construction, it is not feasible to take it apart and reassemble it on another site. But, it could be moved. Bedard noted that a building of comparable size was moved about a mile along Route 4 in Epsom at a cost of $80,000, much of applied to lowering utility lines.
Stier and Bedard noted that there is a half-acre building lot nearby at 903 Union Avenue, amid other homes dating from late 19th and early 20th centuries. The property is owned by attorney Phil Brouillard, who has approached the Heritage Commission. The lot is assessed as residential land at $39,100 and listed at $199,000, though Brouillard indicated that he is "willing to negotiate."
They anticipated that renovating the building would require a new foundation and replacing or repairing the sills. New electrical and HVAC systems would be required, along with bathroom facilities. Missing windows and storms would have to be replaced. Carpets would be removed and floors refinished. Walls and ceilings need repair. The building would need to be repainted inside and out and exterior trim would require replacement or repair.

Finally, to qualify for a commercial use, the building must comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. They estimated the cost of renovation at between $150 and $200 per square foot.
Stier and Bedard note that the cost of moving and renovating the Hathaway House far exceeds the value of similar buildings in the city. For example, a similar building downtown housing professional offices is currently listed for $299,900. Furthermore, they presume that the remaining historic buildings along Union Avenue are all at risk. They observe that the center of Lakeport is dotted with empty storefronts and doubt that "a rehabilitation of the high-style Hathaway House would be a catalyst for additional residential or professional office usage in this location."
"The Hathaway House," Stier and Bedard consider "a very large and risky project." The find that a non-profit organization would be "hard-pressed to justify taking on such a large, capital -intensive project" while a private investor would be dissuaded by "the gap between rehab costs and actual or future real estate value. In our estimation," they remark, "the numbers simply don't add up."
"Be practical and realistic," they suggest. "Recognize that not everything can be saved."
Instead, Stier and Bedard recommend taking steps to salvage some components, record the history and document the condition of the Hathway House while commemorating it with a marker at the site or a display of photographs, perhaps at the Dunkin Donuts outlet. They also offer a number of suggestions for fostering support and marshaling resources to preserve other historic resources, including compiling a fund to acquire threatened properties and providing incentives for private investment in historic buildings.
Although Cafua will complete its application for a demolition permit, Clark said that Nolan agreed to "provide a reasonable window of opportunity to explore the possibility of relocating the building. He said that at this time the company had no specific plans for the property." Clark said that Nolan assured her that "there is no imminent time frame for demolition" and should the company decide to pursue that course the commission would be given sufficient notice to salvage what it can from the building.
The commission voted unanimously not to sign the demolition permit, which Planning Director Shanna Saunders said that she intends to issue. She told the commission that by not signing it "you are making a statement."
Clark told the commission that Sarah Anderson of Gilford, who has been in the forefront of the preservation effort and questions the estimates in the report, has been doing "due diligence" and speaking with building movers and contractors in search of more accurate estimates.
Meanwhile, Clark said that since Nolan indicated the commission would be allowed time to explore relocating the building, she intends to seek a developer or investor. She said that she will approach city officials for funding to place an advertisement or request for proposals in the national media as well as consider listing the Hathaway House on the real estate market at the suggestion of Rickey Persons, who attended the meeting at her invitation.

"Moving the building is still on the table as far as I'm concerned," she said.

Last Updated on Thursday, 06 March 2014 03:32

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Commissioners place priority on funding health insurance obligations

LACONIA — Belknap County commissioners met briefly Wednesday evening to discuss ways of dealing with a $974,000 cut in their proposed $26,570,000 budget for 2014 and have placed as a priority on paying the health insurance costs which are a continuing part of the employee benefits for county workers who are now in their third year without a contract.
Tuesday night the Belknap County Convention approved a $25,596, 863 budget, some $200,000 less than last year, and cut the amount allocated for health insurance from $3.1 million to $2.6 million.
Commissioners said they will meet with County Administrator Debra Shackett and other members of the administration, along with department heads, in the near future to discuss ways to deal with the cuts, which will most likely include layoffs.
Commissioners Steve Nedeau (R-Meredith) and Ed Philpot (D-Laconia) said they will wait until Commission Chairman John Thomas (R-Belmont) returns from vacation before holding that meeting.

They also plan to schedule a meeting with an attorney on what they should do about a lawsuit filed against county convention Chairman Colette Worsman (R-Meredith) and County Convention Clerk Jane Cormier (R-Alton) by the five Democrats on the convention alleging a Right to Know law violation at the Feb. 18 meeting which seeks to overturn a 7-7 tie vote on a motion to pass the commission's budget.
Shackett said that the commission will seek a legal opinion, as they did last year, on their authority to move money from one account to another within departments, and plan on doing the same thing as they did last year by moving money around to meet the county's contractual obligations to employees.
The county convention, which maintains that it has authority over line items in the budget, passed a motion Tuesday night which would require county Executive Committee approval for all line item budget transfers.
Shackett expressed confidence that department heads will be able to come up with a plan which will keep county services from being greatly impacted but said that was dependent on some factors which were beyond their control, such as a spike in the number off inmates at the county jail.
She said that the funds which the county convention added to the budget for two new positions at the county jail won't be expended until the $80,000 in health insurance benefits which were cut from the department have been allocated to existing employees.
''If inmate population doesn't spike we may be able to move to add a community corrections officer by the end of the year.'' said Shackett.
Nedeau said that the commission has received a copy of the lawsuit filed against the convention's leaders by the Democratic minority and wondered what the county would do about defense costs.
''We already don't have enough money in our budget for legal costs yet there is an expectation that we will pay. Why is this something we should pay? It's not a suit against the county,'' said Nedeau.
Philpot said that the suit was something outside the norm and were the county to pay the bill it should probably be done through a supplemental appropriation.
He also praised Shackett and other members of the administration and department heads for their professionalism throughout the entire budget process.
''You and all the folks here were extremely professional in an extremely difficult situation. It's an honor to work with you and I couldn't be prouder of all of you for going above and beyond in a situation which can only be described as horrible.'' said Philpot.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 12 March 2014 09:47

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Gilmanton police want theft charge reinstated against firefighter

GILMANTON — The Police Department prosecutor here has asked Judge Jim Carroll of the 4th Circuit Court, Laconia Division to reconsider his ruling to dismiss a charge of attempted theft against a former town firefighter.

The motion says that Carroll's decision to dismiss the charge against Bryon McSharry was in response to an oral motion made by his attorney that the prosecution responded to in writing.

"The issue before the court, as the state understood it, was whether the McSharry could legally be charged with attempted theft, not whether there was sufficient evidence to prove attempt," wrote Prosecutor Dave Estes.

The state argues that it was prepared to go to trail and can prove that McSharry was, at the time of the alleged attempted theft, a call firefighter with Gilmanton, but that he had not been at the fire department for a number of months.

On October 18, 2013 at 4 a.m., said the prosecution, McSharry was seen at the Gilmanton Fire Station by a "credible witness" who said he removed a gas key from the Gilmanton Fire Department's forestry vehicle, drove his personal vehicle to the gas pumps, and then returned the key to the original location.

When confronted, police argue that McSharry didn't provide a credible explanation.

Estes said the state should have an opportunity to present its evidence to Carroll at a bench trial so he assess the totality of the circumstances and credibility of the witnesses.

On February 19, Carroll ruled that the Court was not persuaded with the additional review of the state's pleadings and the particulars of this case "fail to satisfy the statute's required purposeful substantial step toward the commission of a crime."

Last Updated on Thursday, 06 March 2014 01:31

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Laconia students said to be performing better than national averages on new tests

LACONIA — Students in the city's public schools are becoming increasingly proficient in mathematics and reading, according to standardized test results.

Assistant Superintendent Kirk Bleiter gave the School Board an overview of the latest results from the Northwest Evaluation Assessment tests to the School Board Tuesday evening.
Bleiter and other district curriculum specialists told the board that overall Laconia students are performing better than the national average in the reading and mathematical skills.
NWEA tests are being administered three times a year to Laconia students in the third through 10th grades, Bleiter said.
The assessment tests, which are built on Common Core State Standards, are designed to allow teachers and administrators to assess students' learning levels on the new standards and monitor students' development on a continuing and ongoing basis.
The results show that Laconia students are more proficient in math when compared to results of the New England Common Assessment Program — or NECAP — tests which were administered under the federal No Child Left Behind education program. Proficiency in reading also increased significantly, the board was told.
The data collected from the assessment tests also reveal that students are doing better in retaining what they learn from a prior year. One area of concern, however, is that sixth-graders score below the national average in reading. Bleiter said part of that may be that students often experience difficulty in making the transition from the smaller elementary schools with one teacher for all subjects to the larger middle school with different teachers for differing courses.
Bleiter said that giving the NWEA test three times a year allows teachers and administrators to make changes or corrections to their instructions in order to better ensure that students will be able to master the material of a particular course.
School Board member Scott Vachon said that the NWEA tests are a valuable tool because "students are getting real intervention (from teachers) in real time. This will make them more successful in school and more successful after they leave school."
Referring to those Common Core critics who have alleged that collecting data on students is an invasion of privacy, Vachon said, "People who are afraid of data collection should look at what we're getting out of it."

NOTE: Superintendent Teri Forsten told the board that she is looking at the possibility of filling the Elm Street School principal vacancy with someone already working in the school system. She said she has identified some internal candidates and recommended delay starting a full-fledged search process until the middle of the month by which time she would have the opportunity to talk with the internal candidates. Jim Chase is serving as interim principal.

Last Updated on Thursday, 06 March 2014 01:15

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