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At City Council, no public consensus on Belknap Mill’s future

LACONIA— The prospect of the Belknap Mill Society divesting itself of the mill drew a standing room only crowd to City Hall last night when the City Council hosted a public discussion of the future of the oldest unaltered, brick textile mill in the country and one of the first buildings placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Representing the trustees, attorney Paul Fitzgerald, the first of three former mayors to speak, refrained from offering a recommendation, but urged the council to look ahead rather than back and consider "what is best for the mill and what is best for the city."

Christine Santaniello, president of the Belknap Mill Society, assured everyone that the society has no intention of dissolving, but will continue as a nonprofit corporation for the purpose of sustaining the museum as an embodiment of the city's industrial heritage. "We are not abandoning our mission," she said. "We are looking to sell the building so we can continue with our mission."

Noting that the mill has always been open to the public and is called "the official meetinghouse of the State of New Hampshire," Santaniello said that the trustees first approached the city. She said that trustees seek to keep the building "in the hands of the public," adding "the public must want this and the city must accept this." However, she conceded that if the city shunned a partnership, the the society would court other nonprofit corporations and failing that seek a private investor.

Santaniello said that the mill has operated at a loss for years, deferring necessary maintenance to reduce its expenses and drawing from reserves to balance its budgets. She claimed that no effort had been made to replenish reserves. In the past, she said that donors made contributions to bridge the gaps, but explained that these were not substitute for a stable cash flow that would enable the society to defray operating expenses and accrue reserve funds.

"The mill is down to bare bones staffing and expenses," Santaniello said "We can't cut any more. We have hit the wall. There are no more rabbits in the hat. We need a partner," she continued. Out first option is the city," she repeated, "which is why we are here tonight."

The second former mayor to speak, Tom Tardif reminded the council that easement attached to the mill prescribed that Belknap County, not the city of Laconia, is ultimately responsible for "the care and custody of the mill. We have a vested interest in the mill," he said, "not as property taxpayers, but as individuals. The financial burden should not fall on the city of Laconia."

Former mayor Rod Dyer acknowledged that in 1973 the city council agreed to sponsor the Belknap Mill Society, but a year later a newly elected council rescinded this action and the county took the place of the city.

However, Fitzgerald explained that only if the Belknap Mill Society dissolved, would its assets, including the mill itself, revert to the county, stressing, as Santaniello stated earlier, that the society does not intend to dissolve. In response to a direct question from Mayor Ed Engler, Fitzgerald said he was confident that the society has the authority to sell the mill, with the understanding that the terms of the easement would apply to the new owner.

Former Speaker of the New Hampshire House of Representatives George Roberts of Gilmanton, a past president of the society and a member since its beginning, expressed concern that the trustees approached the city about selling the mill without first convening a meeting of the membership. "The members should have a role and this process should have begun with the membership," he said. He called on the trustees to convene a meeting of the membership. "The society must go inside itself and ask what do you want to save," he remarked. Meanwhile, Roberts suggested the city could assist the society by abating the $6,000 in property taxes the society pays on the space it rents as well as renting space itself.

Lou Guevin, who served on the fundraising committee of the society, indicated that the society's financial problems could be overcome with an aggressive fundraising campaign. "As a taxpayer," he remarked, "I'd hate to see the city put any money into the building."

On the other hand, Charlie St. Clair highlighted the significance of the mill to the community and hoped the city and county could put it on a sound footing. "Whatever it takes," he said, "it should be done."

Last Updated on Tuesday, 09 December 2014 02:23

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Woman charged with taking bag from fire truck

LACONIA – A local woman is being held on $500 cash bail after allegedly stealing a firefighter's bag from a ladder truck which had been sent to what turned out to be a false alarm at the Laconia Parking Garage at 12:30 a.m. yesterday.

Police said Jasmin Sanchez, also known as Jasmin Braley, 34, whose last known address was 6 Spring St., was stopped by police walking down Main Street wearing polka-dot pajama bottoms, a firefighter's sweatshirt, and hat, and carrying the bag with the firefighter's name on it.

After setting bail Monday, Judge Jim Carroll ordered Belknap County Jail to ask the N.H. State Hospital for a mental health evaluation.

Affidavits obtained from the 4th Circuit Court, Laconia Division, said police went to the Landmark in on Saturday, after getting a report that a guest (later identified as Sanchez) was screaming at staff and throwing things out her fourth floor window.

Police talked with Sanchez, who allegedly admitted to using heroin. She was taken to the Lakes Region General Hospital for mental health evaluation and drug exposure, according to affidavits.

She was released from the hospital a short time later.

At 12:30 a.m. Monday, police and firefighters responded to an alarm at the Laconia Parking Garage. When they arrived they found human feces under the pulled fire alarm, the affidavit stated.

While dealing with the fire alarm, a firefighter saw a woman, who police identified as Sanchez, throwing trash cans at the ambulance. The firefighters saw Sanchez take a bag off of one of the fire trucks.

Sanchez is charged with one count of receiving stolen property. Police said the case is still under investigation and additional charges could be forthcoming.

Carroll also ordered her not to enter the Landmark Inn.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 09 December 2014 01:41

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Home Builders Insititute to hold job training program at Huot Center

LACONIA — The Huot Technical Center at Laconia High School will be the venue for job training and placement program offered by the Home Builders Institute, the vocational affiliate of the National Association of Home Builders.

Elizabeth Fischer, the program manager, said yesterday that she was very excited by the prospect of working with the staff of the Huot Technical Center and Laconia Adult Education to provide the comprehensive program to underemployed and unemployed men and women, especially veterans of the armed forces. She said that classes will be conducted after school hours, during the late afternoon and early evening, and taught by instructors associated with the HBI. The program will run for 10 or 12 weeks.

Funded by the U.S. Department of Labor, the program consists of training in all aspects of general construction and property maintenance, including carpentry, plumbing, masonry, landscaping, painting and electrical work. All graduates receive a pre-apprenticeship certificate to present to prospective employers along with a set of hand tools and protective equipment.

Fischer said that the Home Builders Institute and its forerunner, the Manpower Development and Training Department of the NHAB, have been providing educational and training services to the construction industry in partnership with the Department of Labor since 1947. She said that employers in the construction industry in New Hampshire and elsewhere report a paucity of qualified workers, including entry-level and semi-skilled personnel. The training program, Fischer said, is intended to address the shortage of qualified workers and expand the opportunities for those seeking a career.

Fischer said that registration for the program closes on Dec. 31, and she anticipates classes will begin in the middle of January.

For more information contact Elizabeth Fischer, HBI Program Manager at the New Hampshire Home Builders Association, 119 Airport Road, Concord, NH 03301 or call (603) 296-5272 or e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Last Updated on Tuesday, 09 December 2014 01:46

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Gilford selectmen hope to award police station bid today

GILFORD — Selectmen are scheduled to meet today to work with the two lowest bidders for the Police Department expansion project.

Town Administrator Scott Dunn said he has invited the two lowest bidders to meet with the board at 4 p.m., and for each bidder to rework his or her proposal to meet the $1.213-million budget.

"We want to see what adjustments each contractor will make to get to no more than $1.213-million," Dunn said.

Three companies submitted bids for the long-awaited police station expansion. However, all three bids were greater than the $1.213-million approved by voters last March.

The two lowest bidders are Gary Chicoine Construction of Weare with a bid of $1,365,048 and Turnstone Construction with a bid of $1,476,700.

When announcing today's meeting, Dunn said he was confident that one of the two companies will submit an acceptable bid and the contract can be awarded today.

A part of the project, the town has received a $169,000 federal grant through the Department of Homeland Security for a central command/operations center and an emergency generator. Dunn said the federal grant must be expended by September 2015, so it is imperative the project begin as soon as possible.

After two previous attempts, the expansion project was approved by at least a 60 percent of those voting in the ballot session of annual town meeting. Because the project will be funded through long-term debt, the project needed a super-majority to pass.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 09 December 2014 02:12

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