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Chess bug bites 10% of students at Pleasant Street School

LACONIA — The corridor that led to the classroom at Pleasant Street School Thursday afternoon was so quiet a passerby would never had known there were 32 children between the ages of 7 and 10 packed into it. About the only clue was the multi-colored backpacks lining both side of the hall that led to the room.

Inside, the youths were hunched over 16 different chess boards — on tables, desks and even some floor space toward the back of the room.

At one table, Finnian Mousseau was deep in thought and staring intently at his board. After putting the final move on his opponent he shook her hand and went to Laconia School District Business Administrator Ed Emond looking for another opponent.

"This is my first year," said the third-grader who comes from a long line of Pleasant Street School chess champions.

He said he had won a couple of matches so far that day and was looking forward to getting another opponent.

"My brother taught me a few tricks," he said, noting with pride that his brother is the only Pleasant Street student to beat Emond — reputed to be a very good chess player.

At another table, fifth-grader Zoe Reed and fourth-grader Jonathan Duprey played to a stalemate. Zoe said she started in the Chess Club when she was 8 years old and often plays with her parents.

"I can beat my Mom, but I can't beat my Dad," she said.

Duprey said he started playing chess last year and he likes to keep practicing so he can get better. After Duprey explained the difference between a stalemate and checkmate, they both went to teacher Ernie Bownes for further directions.

For Emond, helping Bownes teach and supervise the elementary students is one of the favorite parts of his week. Normally, as the financial manager, Emond spends his days (and many evenings) crunching numbers and managing financial snafus.

On chess day, he gets to play one of his favorite pastimes as well as teaching it to a new group of young people who he hopes will grow to love the game as much as he does.

This year 10 percent of the student body at Pleasant Street School is participating in Chess Club, said Superintendent Terri Forsten. "That's an amazing number," she told the School Board at its meeting Tuesday.

While all five city schools and Holy Trinity School have clubs as well, Pleasant Street School has always worn their chess acumen as a badge of honor.

On Wednesday, the team was having its playoffs to see which four students would represent the school at the city-wide chess tournament March 29 at the Meredith Village Savings Bank Culinary Arts Center at the Huot Technical School.

"This is a very quick hour for me," said Bownes, a special education teacher at Pleasant Street School.

He said second-graders can play but only third-, fourth-, and fifth-graders can play in the tournament.

"Chess teaches sportsmanship and problem solving," he said. "It's not about winning or losing, it's about playing well."

"We win with dignity and we lose with dignity," he said.

Last Updated on Friday, 21 March 2014 11:44

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Lipman takes helm of BDC, plans more direct role in driving investments

LACONIA — Henry Lipman, the new chairman of the board of directors of the Belknap Development Council, says that the organization doesn't have to accept the aging demographics of the county as its destiny.

''We don't have to accept that as the way we are going to end up,'' said Lipman, the executive vice preside and chief financial officer at LRGHealthcare, who has also been a Laconia city councilor since 2005.

Lipman said the council plans to become a catalyst for investors and play a more direct role in driving new investment as a partner-investor and/or owner in property development in the county.

Outgoing chairman Sean Sullivan, who will return to his former seat as BDC treasurer, said that the organization has improved its financial position over the last year and is well poised to undertake new ventures.

The organization presented the Corporate Soul Award to Ryan Barton of Mainstay Technology for his leadership on the 200x2020 Initiative and former Laconia Mayor Michael Seymour for his inspired leadership in two terms as mayor, including his work with the WLNH Children's Auction.

The Winnipesaukee Playhouse was presented with the Community Impact Award for bringing professional theater to the Lakes Region. Parks and Recreation Director Kevin Dunleavy was also presented with a Community Impact Award for his work on the Downtown Riverwalk.

Former BDC Executive Director Carmen Lorentz was presented with a Founder's Award for her leadership during the last three years in which she helped revive the organization and launched many in ititiatives such as 200x2020 and Manufacturing Week. She is now Director of the State Division of Economic Development.



BDC Playhouse

Cristopher Boothby, president of the board of directors of the Winnipesaukee Playhouse and Neil Pankhurst, one of the founders of the Playhouse, accept the Community Impact Award from Randy Eifert, a member of the board of directors of the Belknap Development Council, at the organization's annual meeting held at Lakes Region Community College in Laconia. (Roger Amsden photo for the Laconia Daily Sun)

BDC Carmen

Carmen Lorentz, former executive director of the Belknap Development Council, accepts the Founder's Award from Mark Eddleston, former president of Lakes Region Community College and a former member of the board of directors of the BDC, and Sean Sullivan, the outgoing chairman of the Board of Directors of the BDC. (Roger Amsden photo for the Laconia Daily Sun)

Last Updated on Saturday, 22 March 2014 12:55

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Downtown TIF Committee agrees to reroute Riverwalk

LACONIA — Presented with three alternatives for carrying the downtown riverwalk across the Perley Canal to Beacon Street West, the Downtown Tax Increment Financing (TIF) Advisory Board split three-to-two yesterday in favor of recommending to the City Council a route through the residential complex rather than along the riverbank.

Originally Chinburg Builders Inc., the developer of the Beacon Street West Condominiums, planned to build a restaurant on the footprint of a building straddling the canal. The building collapsed under a snow load several years ago. The firm granted the city an easement along the river for the riverwalk, which would be incorporated into the design of the restaurant.

However, Chinburg has since decided to construct a 6,230-square foot building on the site, with seven residential units, two of which will overlook the river. Jeff Spitzer, senior project manager, told the board that the firm concluded that in light of market conditions a residential use of the property would be more economically viable than a commercial use. He said that while public access would be not only compatible but desirable in conjunction with a restaurant, there is a greater need for privacy with a residential building.

Chinburg presented three conceptual plans for the segment of the riverwalk from the completed stretch behind the Beacon Street West Condominiums across the Perley Canal to Beacon Street West. The first would take the riverwalk around the building over the canal to Beacon Street West by a flight of stairs. As this plan would not provide access for those with disabilities, the board rejected it.

The second alternative would take the riverwalk around the building, crossing the Perley Canal with a bridge then turning a corner before joining Beacon Street West. The third route would follow the path of the easement across the front of the proposed building fronting the riverwalk within feet of the windows of two residential units.

Chinburg has present its plan for the site to the Planning Department. This week the technical review committee, consisting of representatives of city departments, expressed its preference for the second alternative. Chinburg has offered to bear the cost of this route.

Board members Warren Clement and Ken Sawyer favored keeping the riverwalk on the river. "If we continue to compromise," Sawyer warned, "we'll wind up with a trail that doesn't follow the water as much as it should." Clement asked, "Are we concerned about not having a riverwalk along the river?"

Attorney Pat Wood said that the easement, although "not black and white," would likely entitle the city to build the riverwalk on the shoreline, but added "we may have the legal right to do it, but is it the right thing to do?" Stressing that Chinburg was willing to pay for construction of an alternate route, he proposed the board recommend the route preferred by the developer.

Kevin Dunleavy, director of Parks and Recreation who chairs the board, said he was "not surprised by Chinburg's position" and cautioned, "If we push, Chinburg may not build at all. They've offered a compromise here," he continued, explaining the firm granted an easement for public access through the Beacon Street West complex and offered to fund construction of the last segment. "I'd like nothing better than to have the riverwalk along the water," he said, "but compromise is necessary."

Chinburg is scheduled to present its plan for the site to the Planning Board on April 1.

Last Updated on Friday, 21 March 2014 01:20

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Laconia to consider doing away with primary elections

LACONIA — The Government Operations and Ordinances Committee of the City Council last night agreed to direct the City Attorney to draft changes to the City Charter that would either eliminate primary elections altogether or authorize the City Clerk to declare a primary election unnecessary if no more than two candidates file for any particular office.

City Clerk Mary Reynolds initiated the proposal in response to the cost of conducting primary elections, at which very few voters cast ballots.

Once the proposed amendments to the charter are drafted, the committee will present a recommendation to the City Council, which will decide whether to begin the process of amending the charter, which includes a holding public hearing on the proposed changes and placing the question on the general election ballot in November.

The Government Operations and Ordinances Committee is chaired by Councilor Ava Doyle (Ward 1) and includes Councilors David Bownes (Ward 2) and Armand Bolduc (Ward 6). None of the committee members expressed a position either for or against eliminating or changing the primary election process.

In 1995 voters amended the City Charter to eliminate partisan elections, in which party caucuses nominated the candidates for mayor and City Council, and instead hold primary elections to choose the two candidates who appeared on the general election ballot. Primaries for city offices are held in September of odd-numbered years.

In a memorandum, Reynolds explained that since the change was introduced, relatively few primary elections have been contested, and very few voters have cast ballots. For example, in 1997, when the first primary was held, only one candidate entered the primary for City Council in each of the six wards and only two candidates entered the mayoral primary. With no contested races, just 7 percent of registered voters went to the polls.

In the eight primary elections between 1997 and 2011 voter turnout has averaged 9 percent. In 2001, when turnout reached a high of 18 percent there were four candidates for mayor, along with five city council candidates in Ward 3, three in Wards 4 and 5 and two in Ward 6. In three of the past eight elections — in 2003, 2009 and 2011 — primary elections were held even though there were not more than two candidates for either mayor or any of the six council seats. In 2011, only 259 of 8,422, or 3 percent of registered voters went to the polls, just 21 of them in Ward 2 and another 22 in Ward 5, at a cost to the city of approximately $39 a vote.

Last year when there were three candidates for mayor but no more than two for any of six city council seats the turnout was 6 percent.

Along with the mayor and city councilors, primary elections are also held to nominate candidates for the the seven seats on the School Board, whose members serve staggered terms, requiring a primary every year, and three seats on the Police Commission.

Reynolds said that cost of conducting municipal primary elections is approximately $8,600, which does not include about $1,000 for police details at the polling stations at Woodland Heights Elementary School and Laconia Middle School. The cost consists of $3,900 for printing ballots, $1,000 for materials at polling stations and $3,700 in wages of poll workers.

Laconia is one of three of the state's 13 cities to conduct municipal primary elections. In both the other two — Manchester and Keene —the charters authorize the city clerk to deem a primary election election unnecessary if no more than two candidates file for any particular office.

To spare taxpayers the cost of elections that more often than not are unnecessary, Reynolds proposed either adopting the procedure followed by Manchester and Keene or abandoning primary elections entirely.

When the committee met Bownes said he had received a phone call from former mayor and councilor Matt Lahey, who he described as "very much opposed" to eliminating or changing the primary process. Lahey, he explained, considers "the costs of holding the primary minimal compared to the possible consequences of doing away with them."

According to Bownes, Lahey harkened back to the election of the "Straight Arrows," claiming it proved "contentious and costly." His fear, Bownes continued, is that without a primary two "reasonable people" could file for office and a third candidate of "a particular persuasion" could join the race. The two like-minded candidates could split the vote, leading to the election of "a radical, a candidate who doesn't really represent the views of the a majority of voters in the ward."

In other words, Bownes said that Lahey believes that without a primary there is a risk that two-thirds of the vote could be split two ways, enabling a candidate representing a minority perspective to win the election.

"I'm just expressing a point of view," Bownes insisted. "I'm not sure where I come down this."

Bolduc countered that holding a primary would not prevent a minority candidate who mounted an aggressive write-in campaign from winning a general election against one or two declared candidates on the ballot.

"Write-in candidates," Bownes replied, "are different animals."

Last Updated on Thursday, 20 March 2014 12:52

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