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City charette participants asked, 'What do you see here?'

LACONIA — Plan N.H., in partnership with the Planning Department and the Orton Family Foundation, held three charettes at the Belknap Mill yesterday and today will hold a design session beginning in the morning then present suggestions for spurring the economy and spurring the development of the city in the afternoon.

Plan N.H. is a non-profit corporation composed of architects, engineers, planners and other professionals who work with municipal officials, civic leaders, business owners and private citizens business owners to create a vision for enhancing a community or neighborhood. The organization has conducted more than 55 charettes in more than 50 cities and towns throughout the state.

The first of three charettes yesterday was confined to invited stakeholders, including city officials, business operators and property owners, which the other two were open to the general public. At each of the charettes participants, working together in small groups of less than 10, were asked to respond to three questions: what do you see here? what would you like to see? what else does the team need to know? The responses represent the grist that the Plan N.H. team will grind into the designs and suggestions it presents during the second stage of the process today.

Two dozen people attended the first of two public charettes and worked at tables in three groups of eight. Several themes were common to all three groups. The prospect of the renovation and reopening of the Colonial Theatre led all three groups to remark as one noted "downtown is moving in a positive direction" and another to report "all the ingredients are there for a comeback". At the same time, there was general concern at the number of empty storefronts and vacant commercial space.

David Stamps, a veteran of many similar sessions during the past decade, described the Weirs as "a separate planet at war with itself" while in another group it was called "a place of conflict". Yet another group pointed to "apathy among property owners" at the Weirs. However, Russ Poirer was enthusiastic about the promise of developing the Weirs into a year-round destination anchored by a quality hotel and one group expected it would become "a real economic engine for Laconia".

All three groups touched on the prospect of the city acquiring and redeveloping the former Laconia State School property off North Main Street while education and agriculture were often suggested as the best uses for the site.

There were a number specific recommendations of interest, ranging from removing the unused sewage storage tanks at the foot of Water Street, restoring regular rail service to the city and building accessible public restrooms to the whimsical yet wise "a place to dance".

Afterwards, Reuben Bassett, the young entrepreneur with interests in Burrito Me and the Wayfarer Coffee Roaster, conceded much of what he heard was familiar, But stressed "it is important to put it before professional eyes and get the input of outside professional people." He also remarked that "I heard a lot more positive things than I've heard before."

Assistant City Planner Brandee Loughlin said that what she called "these listening sessions" will inform the land-use section of the Master Plan, which is expected to be completed by next spring. The report prepared by the "Smart Growth" Team of the United States Environmental Protection Agency in 2007, which is available on the city website, will also be incorporated into the Master Plan. She said that once the maps are drawn there will be another round of "public outreach" before the plan is drafted.

The design session,where members of public can watch as the Plan N.H. puts its ideas to paper, will be held today on the first floor of the Belknap Mill between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. In the afternoon an interactive workshop on economic development will begin a 2:30 p.m. at the Grace Capital Church followed by the presentation of the design plans arising from the charettes.

Last Updated on Saturday, 29 August 2015 01:00

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Sergeant in Sheriff's Department resigns under suspension cloud

LACONIA — Belknap County Sheriff Craig Wiggin confirmed yesterday that Sgt. E. Justin Blanchette had resigned from the department after being placed on paid administrative leave on July 20.

As for the reason for Blachette's departure, Wiggin said only that he accepted Blanchette's resignation, that there was an investigation, but it was a personnel matter and he wasn't going to comment further.

During his time on paid administrative leave, Blanchette earned $25.04 an hour, $6009.60 in total. His resignation was effective yesterday.

He joined the Sheriff's Department in October of 2011 and was a police officer in Laconia prior to joining the county force.

Last Updated on Friday, 28 August 2015 12:51

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Council authorizes purchase of 3 additional surveillance cameras for downtown

LACONIA — The City Council this week authorized the withdrawal of $13,500 from the Downtown Tax Increment Financing (TIF) Fund for the purchase of three surveillance cameras tied to Police Department monitoring to be installed at selected locations downtown. One such camera is already in place.

Pat Wood of the downtown TIF Advisory Committee told the council that although the committee has discussed the acquisition of surveillance cameras with the Police Department it has yet to reach a final decision about their purpose, number and location. He said that along with the parking garage, several other downtown locations were under consideration and noted that the cameras could be moved from place to place. Consequently, he said the committee was not in a position to make a formal recommendation to the council.

Councilor Bob Hamel (Ward 5) said that the both the committee and the council have been discussing the issue for the better part of a year without coming to a conclusion and proposed purchasing three cameras without waiting any longer for the TIF Advisory to make a recommendation. Purchasing three cameras, he said, will not preclude purchasing more at a future time if the TIF Advisory Committee and Police Department put forward a request.

Councilor David Bownes (Ward 2) said he was reluctant to proceed without a recommendation from the committee and was cast the lone dissenting vote when the council voted five-to-one to approve the purchase.

As of July 31 the Downtown TIF fund had a balance of $777,669.44.

Last Updated on Friday, 28 August 2015 12:46

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Forced-hot-water heating pipes at Gilford Town Hall said to be in poor condition

GILFORD — Town Administrator Scott Dunn told selectmen Wednesday the piping system for the Town Hall forced-hot-water heating system will likely need to be replaced along with two boilers in 2017.

Dunn said the piping deficiencies were noticed by the construction crews installing the heating system in the new police station addition.

"They are afraid to cut into those pipes," Dunn said, explaining to the board that as the police station is being constructed, crews need to tie into the existing boilers.

"The piping for the circulation is extremely corroded," he said.

He said the crews fear that the existing piping is "very brittle" but have to cut into it to complete the loop. He said the construction team will test the water in the system now and then flush it.

He said it appears the water is "just eating away at the pipes". Dunn said the water in the system is filtered and runs through a water softener but the pipes are made of steel which corrodes faster than does copper or plastic piping.

There are already a few leaks in the system and Dunn said the hope is that connecting the new police station system won't create any more.

He said yesterday that the two of the three boilers in Town Hall are already scheduled in the Capital Improvement Plan for 2017. He said it is very likely the piping system for the Town Hall will be added to the plan.

Dunn said that the pipes in the police station will not need replacing in 2017 because they will be new.

In other town news, the Selectboard unanimously accepted the proposed 10-year road construction plan prepared by Public Works Director Peter Nourse.

Nourse said his goal is to protect as much of the good roads by implementing an "robust" road sealing plan that will "save the town hundreds of thousands in road construction over time."

He will also address poor sections of "connector" roads first. A connector road is a road that connects a number of different roads — like Morrill Street and Belknap Mountain Road — and that, given a $1-million annual budget with a 5 percent compounded annual increase, the department can either repair or reconstruct all of the main connectors in five years.

Nourse's plan calls for spreading the work geographically around Gilford unless is makes sense to do a section of road at one time. To that end, he added that many of the roads in Gunstock Acres will be addressed sooner rather than later.

His recommendations for 2016 summer road reconstruction projects include a portion of Mountain Drive, the west side of Summit Avenue, Saltmarsh Pond Road, Poor Farm Road, a portion of Cumberland Road and Weeks Road.

Nourse recommends shims and overlays for several other roads in 2016 including Foxglove Road, a portion of Deer Run Lane, Hickory Stick Lane, Buckboard Drive, Crestview Drive, Hermit Road, and Forest Drive.

His total proposal is $1 million and a total of 5.25-miles of road will be addresses. His estimated cost per mile is $240,000 for reconstruction and $105,000 for shims and overlays.

Last Updated on Friday, 28 August 2015 12:42

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