LACONIA — The state of New Hampshire spent $550,215 maintaining and securing the former Laconia State School property on North Main Street in the current biennium and expects to budget another $586,227 in the next biennium, according to figures reported by the Department of Administrative Services (DAS).
In addition, the agency spends approximately $60,000 a year maintaining the "Designated Receiving Facility" (DRF), two buildings at the northern end of the property holding six beds for individuals with developmental disabilities or acquired brain disorders found to have committed sexual offenses and to pose a risk to public safety.
Governor Maggie Hassan has directed the DAS to sell the property and included $2 million in proceeds from the transaction in her proposed 2016-2017 budget. In 2012, the state appraised the 200-acre tract and 26 buildings for $2.16 million, but declined the city's offer to purchase it at that price. When the subject arose at the governor's budget hearings last November, Michael Connor, deputy commissioner of DAS, responding to Senator Jeanie Forrester (R-Meredith) said that while the property remains for sale, it is not being actively marketed.
The terms of the proposed transaction are stipulated in House Bill 2, the so-called "trailer bill" that accompanies the biennial budget, which directs the commissioner of the DAS to execute the sale. The transaction would be subject to the requirements of RSA 4:40, the statute governing the sale or lease of state property, which stipulates that it must be first be offered to the municipality or county where it is located.
The property consists of 202 acres bounded by North Main Street to the east, Meredith Center Road and Eastman Road to the north and Ahern State Park to the west and south and divided roughly in half by Right Way Path. Among the 26 buildings on the site, the appraiser found less than a handful salvageable and estimated the cost of demolishing the rest at more than $2 million.
The governor's budget has created an opportunity to renew its effort to acquire the property. Last week Mayor Ed Engler said that he would advocate for the city acquiring the property if it were offered for the appraised value or less.
The future of the property has been a bone of contention between the Senate and the House. Speaking at the governor's budget hearings in November, Linda Hodgdon, commissioner of Administrative Services, said "we would love some direction from the Legislature because so far we have been getting competing direction from the Legislature. We have some folks that are upset that we are not fixing more roofs there," she continued. "We have other folks that are upset that we are doing anything there." Connor added that when the matter came before the Capital Budget Overview Committee "there was a lot of consternation" and explained "Half the group felt that we shouldn't be investing in the buildings at all. We should be divesting ourselves of them immediately. A lot of other people felt that we should just hold on to it."
Senator Chuck Morse (R-Salem), the president of the Senate, has pressed to sell the property in order to spare the state the annual costs associated with it. Senator Jeanie Forrester (R-Meredith), who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, said yesterday that she shares Morse's concerns about the cost of state ownership. In the House Representative Gene Chandler (R-Bartlett), chairman of the Public Works and Highways Committee, has been at the forefront of resistance to disposing of the property.
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