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Fire breaks out in Busy Corner cellar

LACONIA — Firefighters from Laconia, Gilford and Belmont quickly doused a fire that broke out in the cellar of the building at Normandin Square housing JD's Barber Shop around 8 p.m. last night. At 8:20 p.m. Fire Chief Ken Erickson told police the fire had been extinguished and he expected the intersection would be cleared within the hour. The building long housed the Busy Corner Store. (Laconia Daily Sun photo/Michael Kitch)

Last Updated on Friday, 24 January 2014 02:10

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Issues involving homeless an every day fact of life for Laconia police

LACONIA — When police officers in Laconia begin their shifts, they generally meet with the outgoing shift for daily updates, check their messages, and get their instructions from their supervisor.

As temperatures dip below zero, some of those assignments include checking on the various homeless camps hidden throughout the city.

"We want to make sure they're okay," said Police Chief Chris Adams. "Many of these people are in danger of freezing to death."

Adams estimates there are between 20 to 35 chronically homeless people living in Laconia and winter's cold and snow present a unique challenge to both the homeless and the police.

Police have joined forces with other city agencies both public and private to address homelessness in Laconia and to encourage a city-wide effort called Hope for the Homeless. The mission is working together as a community to combat the causes of homelessness and the kickoff is the marshaling of community efforts at the Laconia Middle School on February 17 from 5 to 8 p.m. The highlight will be a community viewing of the award-winning short film "Inocente" that is about a teenaged girl who combats her homelessness with her art work.

The challenges presented to police by the homeless and near-homeless are two-fold said Adams. On one hand, there is the duty to protect and serve and he said people who are homeless deserve and need the same protections offered to all.

To that end, he said many of his patrol officers have struck up relationships with individual members of the community and check in on them regularly.

"Last year we had a man who lived, by his own choice, in a tent nearby," said Adams, beginning just one of the many stories he can tell. He said the man and one particular officer struck up a relationship and the officer checked on him daily and occasionally brought him food, coffee, and other small necessities paid for out of his own pocket.

Adams said the man's only desire was to be left alone and, aside from this officer, he trusted no one.

But he said the officer and other police also had to make sure others weren't taking advantage of this man, adding that people who live on the streets often have their own code and will often times prey on other homeless people.

Over the course of last winter, he said, the Laconia officer realized the man wasn't doing well physically. He drank, which is often the case of the chronically homeless, and his health had deteriorated to the point that the officer realized the man would die if he didn't get medical treatment.

Adams said the officer convinced the man to be put into protective custody and he was taken to the hospital where he was treated for a variety of ailments.

When asked what became of the man, Adams said local agencies learned he was a veteran and they combined resources and convinced him to go to a veterans hospital, where he remains today.

But most times, stories involving the police and the homeless don't have happy endings.

Adams said the department faces constant pressure from the rest of the community to remove homeless people from their camps and hangouts.

In the 20 years he has worked in Laconia, Adams said he has sen the number of homeless and transient people in the city increase.

He said some of the clusters of the chronically homeless, especially the people who congregate near Laconia City Hall and in Rotary Park, are a constant problem for the police.

"We get calls all of the time," he said. "Sleeping in the parking garage, sleeping in the lobbies of banks and ATMs, public urination and defecation, shoplifting, drinking, sleeping in cars, and loitering," he said, reciting off the usual complaints his department gets about the homeless.

Often times, police find intoxicated people who have to be taken into protective custody. In nearly every police log for nearly every shift, the Laconia Police record some response to a complaint about homeless or transient people.

In the 24 hours recorded from 4 p.m. Wednesday until 4 p.m. yesterday, city police responded to one call for shoplifting, one call for loitering, and had to take one transient man into protective custody for intoxication coupled with some mental health problems.

In the past four years, at least two homeless people have died in separate incidents. In both cases, the individuals had fallen into the water and either died from drowning or exposure. The family of one of these men planted a garden in his memory along the WOW Trail.

Police also respond to altercations and incidents within many of the homeless camps — especially in the summer. He said there have been reports of beatings, stabbings, and sexual assaults and all are investigated. Most times the crimes are fueled by alcohol and/or drugs.

He said some of situations within the camps are volatile and present real dangers to the officers who respond to them.

Laconia does not have a cold-weather shelter. Adams said the one shelter available to locals is a "dry" shelter where any alcohol or drugs use is strictly forbidden, which puts it off-limits for many of the city's homeless.

When asked if he would support a cold-weather shelter in the city, Adams said he would if it is done correctly. He also said he thinks many of the homeless people he and his officers deal with regularly would come in to an emergency shelter if there were one.

When asked what police do now, he said on extremely cold nights, police will use money from the Police Relief Association Family Fund to buy hotels rooms for a night.

He also said on extremely cold nights, homeless people will stay with friends who happen to have apartments at the time.

Last Updated on Friday, 24 January 2014 01:54

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Boys & Girls Club renovation project gets big boost with in-kind contributions from engineer, architect and construction manager

LACONIA — Three is a magic number, especially for the Boys and Girls Club of the Lakes Region, whose efforts to acquire the former St. James Episcopal Church on North Main Street and to transform it into the club's "forever home" are getting a boost from a trio of local building professionals.
Founded in 1999, the Boys and Girls Club of the Lakes Region has had four homes in its history but late in 2013 it launched a $2.4-million capital campaign with the goal of making the St. James campus the club's first real and permanent home.
The club is working to raise money to purchase the St. James property; to renovate 17,000-square-feet of interior space; and to establish an endowment fund.
Helping with the second element of the capital campaign are Steven J. Smith Sr., who is president of Steven J. Smith & Associates, a civil and sanitary engineering and land-surveying company; Peter L. Stewart, AIA, principal of Stewart Associates and Architects; and Chuck Moretti, a partner with NCM Management which provides construction management, value engineering, scheduling, and estimating services.
Smith, Stewart and Moretti are friends and colleagues and all have their offices at Six Lily Pond Road in Gilford. The men, said Al Posnack, who is chairman of the Boys and Girls Club's capital campaign, are also a godsend.
"The Boys and Girls Club of the Lakes Region is very grateful and thrilled to receive the in-kind donation of services by Steven, Peter, and Chuck," said Posnack. "Their skills are guiding us through every step of the process of us having, at last, a home that we can truly call our own."
In addition to assisting the club in getting settled at its current and several of its past homes, Posnack noted that Smith, Stewart, and Moretti have also been instrumental in remedying some of the damage recently caused by vandals to the club's facilities.
"We are humbled by the generosity of Steven, Peter and Chuck," Posnack summed up, "as we are by each donation, no matter how big or small, because every bit helps and is truly appreciated by us and, ultimately, by the kids."
Smith, who was raised in Conway, but who has called Laconia home since 1977, said that donating his professional services to the Boys and Girls Club is the right thing to do.
"You've got to give back to the community," said Smith, "especially if you have a business here." A member of the Gilford Rotary Club and of the WOW Trail board of directors, Smith said he was glad to help the Boys and Girls Club while also having the opportunity to collaborate with Stewart and Moretti.
In addition to several commercial and private projects in Gilford and Laconia that they've done together, Stewart and Moretti have been working with the Boys and Girls Club of the Lakes Region for about six years. They previously combined their skills to help the club move to what were temporary homes in the former Our Lady of the Lakes Catholic Church in Lakeport, and most recently, in the former Federal Building in downtown Laconia.

Born in Boston, but raised in Laconia, Stewart comes from a family with deep, local civic roots; his father, the late Paul N. Stewart, was the chairman of the Laconia Housing and Redevelopment Authority. Under the elder Stewart's administration, the LHRA built the Sunrise Towers housing complex on Union Avenue, across the street from which, along the south bank of the Winnipesaukee River, sits a municipal park named after him.

Stewart the younger followed in his father's community-minded footsteps as a member of the Laconia Planning Board and of the board of directors of the Laconia Area Community Land Trust and Genesis Behavioral Health. Like Smith, Stewart said giving back to the city and towns that have sustained his business since 1994 is very important to him.
Moretti echoed that point and added that his company was involved with the Boys and Girls project because he and his business partner, Donald H. Roper, firmly believe in the club's mission and want the club to succeed.
"There is such a huge need in Laconia and in the Lakes Region for what the Boys and Girls Club does," said Moretti, a native of Rochester, NY who now calls Belmont home.
In its search for a "forever home," the Boys and Girls Club, Stewart pointed out, had considered properties in the North Main Street area but chose to keep looking. The club's gaze and attention, however, have correctly come back to St. James, said Stewart.
Located across the street from Smith Track and Opechee Park, and just a short distance from Laconia Middle School, the club's location now "is just perfect," Stewart said, and soon so, too, will be the new club itself.
To make a donation of in-kind services to the Boys and Girls Club of the Lakes Region's capital campaign, contact the club at 528-0197. Financial contributions can be made online at www.lakeskids.org.


Cutline for attached photo:

The ongoing acquisition and transformation of the former St. James Episcopal Church on North Main Street in Laconia into the first permanent home of the Boys and Girls Club of the Lakes Region is being made possible by the generosity of many people, among them Peter Stewart, right, Steve Smith, center, and Chuck Moretti, left. Each of the men, who all have offices in the same building on Lily Pond Road in Gilford, has donated their professional services to the club. (Courtesy photo)

Last Updated on Friday, 24 January 2014 01:46

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Hathaway House owner lambasted by city commission

LACONIA — "I'm the elephant in the room," Greg Nolan of Cafua Management Company, LLC, the Dunkin' Donuts franchisee that owns the Hathaway House, told more than three dozen residents at a public hearing convened by the Heritage Commission last night in an effort to spare the Victorian landmark from demolition. "I'm here to listen," he added.

He got an earful, beginning with Dorothy Duffy of the commission who recounted the company's failure to fulfill its repeated assurances to maintain, improve and preserve the building charged that "the owners of Dunkin' Donuts and the Hathaway House have lied to the citizens of Laconia for the last five years."

Charlie St. Clair, whose parents owned and operated a clothing store in the building, described developers like Cafua as "a plague of locusts," noting "in five years they'll be gone, but we'll still be here. They just don't care."

In November, Cafua formally applied for a demolition permit to raze the historic building. Since the Hathaway House is more than 700-square-feet in area and 75 or more years old, as well as visible from a public right-of-way, the application was presented to the Heritage Commission for review. The commission refused to endorse the application and scheduled the public hearing in an effort to preserve the building.
St. Clair claimed that although Cafua has offered the building for sale or lease the company has not responded to prospective buyers. Susan Hodgkins, a real estate agent representing an interested party, said that she began inquiring in October, but had not spoken to Nolan until last week and still has received no information about the property.
After a handful of speakers lamented the loss of many commercial and residential building of historic and architectural value in the city, Daylon Brock challenged the commission and the community to preserve the building by making viable use of it. "What are you going to do with the Hathaway House after you save it?" he asked. Noting that "the Lakeport Association paid $80,000 for a rusted boxcar," he said that the money would have served as a down payment on the Hathaway House. "Come up with a plan for it," he said.
"It's very nice to talk about the good old days," Brock continued, "but nobody wants to talk about the future. This is 2014." He said that he had heard "a lot of naive nostalgia for a lifestyle that has passed," conceding that perhaps those were better times, but reminding his listeners of "the relic to Jim Crow that stood in front of the Goss Reading Room."
Echoing an earlier speaker who cautioned the commission against charging Nolan with dishonesty, Maggie Stier of the New Hampshire Preservation Alliance said that "confrontation will probably not move this process forward." Instead, she urged the commission to work with the owner to either put the historic building to some viable use or, failing that, transfer ownership to some organization or individual who would. "Give Dunkin' Donuts a graceful way to hand off the building," she said. "Try to come to a win-win situation."
The ordinance provides for the Heritage Commission to meet with the owner within 10 days to seek agreement on an alternative to razing the building. Without an agreement to preserve the building, the owner may proceed with demolition while the Heritage Commission, with the consent of the owner, can photograph and document the building as well as encourage the owner to salvage any of its important architectural features.

Following the hearing Pam Clark, who chairs the commission, and Nolan, who was accompanied by his attorney, were discussing how to proceed.

Last Updated on Thursday, 23 January 2014 04:28

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