Alton FIRST team mentors Wolfeboro rookies

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Prospect Mountain High School senior Jaimie Westlake drills holes for an elevator frame as part of this year's FIRST — For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology — robotics team. (David Carkhuff/The Laconia Daily Sun)

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Niko Neathery adjusts parts on a robot at Prospect Mountain High School, as members of the FIRST Robotics team test code and adjustments to the device. The Prospect High team, Team 319, also known as "Big Bad Bob," has a history of attending national competition. (David Carkhuff/The Laconia Daily Sun)


By DAVID CARKHUFF/THE LACONIA DAILY SUN

ALTON — While senior Jaimie Westlake drills holes by microscopic margins, other team members at Prospect Mountain High School test-run a modified version of last year’s robot, for the purpose of collecting a large yellow disc and inserting it on a peg.
Multi-tasking is nothing new for Team 319. Also known as “Big Bad Bob,” the FIRST — For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology — robotics team at Prospect Mountain High builds on 21 years of robot-building pedigree.
“For the past three years, we’ve actually qualified and advanced to the world championships. We’re on a good little run. We’re hoping to continue that with this year’s game,” said team mentor Brian Hikel.
But for this overachieving team, it’s not enough to construct a robot that can survive the specialized field test put out in the national competition.
“We don’t build a robot in six weeks. We build two robots in six weeks,” Hikel said.
After the six-week build season, the team will take the competition robot and secure it, per the contest rules. “Our other robot, the programming team and the drive team will continue to use to practice and become better and tune their software code to get drive time to get better at driving the robot and do the tasks on the field,” Hikel explained. Any changes made in the programming of the practice robot can be inserted into the competition robot, he said.
On Jan. 7, inventor and FIRST founder Dean Kamen launched this season at Southern New Hampshire University in Manchester. Kamen revealed the competition theme, FIRST Steamworks, “an industrial airship-themed game played by two alliances of three robots each.” The teams will board robots onto steampunk-style aerial machines inspired by the era of steam-powered technology.
Alton hopes to advance to the 2017 New England FIRST District Championship hosted by the University of New Hampshire April 6, 7 and 8, at Whittemore Center Arena in Durham.
“I’ve been involved with FIRST Robotics since ’96. I think this is 21 years,” said Hikel, who estimated that 30 students participate. Alton doesn’t just fend for itself. The school’s programming team helped team 6691 at Brewster Academy develop a FIRST Robotics device.
“Just this past weekend, we teamed up and we put our wings out over Brewster Academy up in Wolfeboro. They have a rookie team this year, so that’s something new we’re adding, we’re reaching out and mentoring a rookie team that’s in their first year of existence,” Hikel said.
Joe Derrick, physics teacher at Prospect Mountain High School, said the Alton team also finds time to post videos, via a Robosports Networks YouTube page. Every Tuesday at 7 p.m., Twitch TV broadcasts five teams from across the country. The Prospect Mountain High team, with Westlake as a constant host, rotates different team members to present updates. For a Jan. 27 installment, the public can visit https://youtu.be/SBw9P7dyegw.
Timothy Guyer, lead programmer for the team, joined a group that was testing last year’s robot equipped with modifications and this year’s code. “We’re just running it back and forth to see if our prototypes are working,” he said, explaining the back-and-forth remote operation of a flat, multi-wired contraption that can catch a disc and insert it on a peg. The tests are important because this disc-on-peg operation is a central part of this year’s FIRST Robotics steampunk-themed challenge, Guyer explained.
“This is my second year, and it’s a very rewarding experience to take a game and bring a robot all the way from concept all the way to a working design that will go on to win events like we did last year,” he said.
In a separate shop, Westlake drilled holes for an “elevator frame,” something requiring much more precision.
“This radius varies slowly because we don’t know how accurate this bit is so I’m going up a 1,000th at a time, or half a 1,000th at a time,” he said.
Westlake said he plans to attend college to study computer hardware engineering.
A four-year member of the team, he said, “Now, I have a leadership position as co-captain. As the years go on, you get to learn a lot more.”
Other co-captain Cierra Pharr deals with media and publicity. Other students approach the challenge from a variety of interests. Some don’t touch the robot but develop presentations for companies or write code, Hikel noted.
The build season ends on the third week of February. Then comes a March 3 qualifying meet, the 2017 Granite State District meet at Windham High School.
Hikel said each year presents its hurdles, making the Robotics competition unique.
Football teams know every year what the rules, field and the game object look like, he explained. “Our team, we have to play a brand new game every year.”
For more information, visit firstinspires.org.

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 Niko Neathery (from left), David Kelley and Tim Guyer use a modified version of last year's robot to test one of the challenges, catching a disc and placing it on a peg. The Prospect Mountain High School FIRST Robotics team is preparing for district competition. (David Carkhuff/The Laconia Daily Sun)

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 The Prospect Mountain High team, Team 319, brings together about 30 students to develop a robot. "We've had a team at Prospect since its inception," said team mentor Brian Hikel. (David Carkhuff/The Laconia Daily Sun)

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Pushing for a vote - Briarcrest Estates co-op entertains offer from buyer

By MICHAEL KITCH, LACONIA DAILY SUN

LACONIA — The offer by Hometown America Corporation of Chicago to purchase Briarcrest Estates has opened a rift among residents, who in 2014 formed the Lakemont Cooperative to purchase and manage the manufactured housing park.

When the offer was disclosed to residents at a meeting last weekend, they agreed by a show of hands to meet with representatives of Hometown America late in April, after residents spending the colder months in warmer climes have returned for the summer. However, on Monday the directors of the Lakemont Cooperative informed its members that what they called an "informational meeting" with the regional director of Hometown America will be held on Feb. 25 and a special meeting of the membership has been scheduled on April 8, when members will be asked to vote whether to accept or reject the offer.

Orry Gibbs, who was among the original directors of the Lakemont Cooperative, said that "the board has all of a sudden accelerated the time frame without any explanation." She said that many residents will not have returned from their winter residences by early April expressed concern at the prospect that a vote could be taken before a significant number of residents would have an opportunity to become informed about the offer, take part in the discussion and perhaps even cast their vote.

"We have been no reason for the rush to a decision," she said.

Katherine Carlson, who also was among the first officers of the cooperative, said that although the board has claimed the offer was not solicited, the letter from Hometown America Corporation outlining its terms begins "per our discussions," indicating that board members have been communicating with Hometown America for some time.

Jim Cowan, the first president of Lakemont Cooperative, said he is opposed to returning the park to private ownership and instead has suggested that the board vest management of the park with the Evergreen Harvard Group, with which it has contracted for property management services.

Earlier in the Week, Don Vachon, president of the Lakemont Cooperative, seemed to discount the offer, insisting that "it's an unsolicited offer" and saying "for the moment it's going nowhere." Vachon could not be reached on Tuesday to explain the board's decision to lend urgency to the vote.

Tara Riordan, director of ROC-NH (Resident Owned Communities), a division of of the New Hampshire Community Loan Fund, said that "our mission is supporting affordable housing." She noted that there are 121 manufactured housing parks in cooperative ownership throughout the state and that not one park acquired by its residents during the past 33 years has reverted to private or corporate ownership.

Riordan said that the Lakemont Cooperative is "extremely healthy financially," with sufficient reserve funds, and has a capital improvements plan in place to maintain the park without placing inordinate costs on residents. She explained that ROC-NH contributed to financing the acquisition of the park and has provided "technical advice," including model bylaws, to the board of directors of the cooperative. "Our desire is that the cooperative follow a clear, open and transparent process," she said, adding that ROC-NH will be represented at meetings of the Lakemont Cooperative "if members invite us."

Hometown America Corporation has pledged to honor all current leases, which limit annual rent increases to the rise in property taxes and inflation rate, together with any special assessment levied to fund improvements in the park. The company offered to invest $350,000 in improvements to the park in the first year of its ownership. And the offer included a commitment to restrict the park to residents aged 55 and older, a measure residents rejected by a wide margin at the annual meeting of the Lakemont Cooperative in 2015.

Gilford Town Meeting on Feb. 7 to debate spending

By GAIL OBER, LACONIA DAILY SUN

GILFORD — Town hall renovations, noise and a $950,000 transfer station are the top items voters will discuss at this year's deliberative session of Town Meeting at Gilford High School on Tuesday, Feb. 7.

This year, voters will be asked to spend $450,000 to finish the town hall renovations by replacing the heating, ventilation and air conditioning system; the flooring; the water system; and the sidewalks. Phase I was completed in 2013 and cost $350,000.

Additionally, Town Administrator Scott Dunn told the Board of Selectmen and the Budget Committee that the front doors are not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act and must be replaced.

Article 11 is one of the more controversial articles on the ballot, largely because though the Budget Committee supports it in principal, many of its members struggle with the amount of money the selectmen have requested.

According to Dunn, the warrant article's original price tag was the same as it is now, at $450,000. During the initial push back from the Budget Committee, Dunn got two estimates from contractors about the HVAC repairs and each told him that piece alone could cost as much as $400,000. The selectmen increased the requested amount for the warrant article to $525,000.

After even more questions from the Budget Committee, Dunn got a third estimate from a company that told him it could be done for $200,000 and revised the warrant article back to $450,000.

While the selectmen have emphasized the money will come from the unexpended fund balance or surplus, committee members have said that all of the surplus is tax money and voted not to recommend Article 11.

At a meeting held on Jan. 25, the Budget Committee reviewed the project again and determined that it should cost no more than $327,000 based on the estimates of $202,000 for the HVAC, $50,000 for flooring, $25,000 for the water system and sidewalks for $50,000.

At the end of the Budget Committee meeting, members decided to address the cost issues at the deliberative session by possibly making a floor motion to reduce the amount.

The Budget Committee said there is some money being transferred into the building repair capital fund from which the town could take the money to fix the doors, a project all agree must be done regardless of the outcome of the vote on on the building project.

At the recommendation of the town's recycling committee, selectmen have asked the voters to be able to bond $950,000 to build a solid waste transfer facility at the site of the current recycling center.

Because this would require a bond, the vote needs to pass by a 3/5 majority of those who vote. The Budget Committee and the selectmen support the passage of Article 7.

Voters are also being asked to adopt a new noise ordinance that imposes a noise curfew, with the exception of a few things, from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m.

Dunn said the key thing the new ordinance facilitates is it better allows the police to enforce it and it lowers the fines for offenders from $1,000 to $100 for a first offense and $500 for each subsequent offense.

He said the impetus for the new ordinance came from two complaints over the past year, one of which involved complaints that a person was using a generator 24 hours a day to power their home and the other was that construction crews were starting too early in the morning.

Because there is no tax money attached to the proposed noise ordinance regulation, the Budget Committee has no official opinion on this.

Proposed planning changes this year revolve around making existing ordinances surrounding accessory apartments consistent with state law.

Voters are also being asked to replace a fire engine for the Fire Department by raising a $50,000 of the lease through new taxation and to purchase a $175,000 medium-sized dump truck with a plow for the Department of Public Works. The money for the truck will come from the unexpended fund balance and not new taxes.

Voters will also be asked to approve a $12,414,164 budget with a default budget of $12,145,615. The proposed selectman's budget is recommended by the Budget Committee. Of the 22 total warrant articles, one of them asks for approval of a $725,000 bond for the replacement of two sewer pump stations. Needing a 60 percent majority, this is money that will come from the sewer district and not general taxation. Six articles ask voters to approve transferring money from the surplus to various capital reserve accounts all of which are supported by the Budget Committee.

Three "outside agencies" including the Laconia Area Center of Community Action Program, Children and Family Services and Genesis Behavior Health are asking for financial support. While none of these appropriations are recommended by the board of selectmen or the Budget Committee, voters have shown support for these requests over the past several years.

A petitioned warrant article asks voters to disallow any person who serves in the state or federal government as an elected officer from serving the town on any elected position. Dunn said selectmen decided not to spend money on a legal opinion as to whether or not it would be binding if passed, and said that if it does, then the town will ask its attorneys.

The deliberative session will begin at 7 p.m. Voting will take place March 14.

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