LACONIA — Although the New Hampshire Department of Administrative Services is proceeding with its effort to sell the former Laconia State School site here, a legislative initiative is underway that would certainly slow and perhaps stop the state from divesting itself of the property.
This week, Rep. Gene Chandler (R-Bartlett), who has opposed to selling the site since the prospect was first broached in 2010, revealed that he intends to propose legislation that would repeal the directive to sell the property as prescribed by the 2016-2017 state budget. The budget stipulated that the transaction would be subject to the requirements of RSA 4:40, the statute governing the sale or lease of state property, but exempted it from review and approval by the Long Range Capital Planning and Utilization Committee, consisting of four members of the Senate and four members of the House of Representatives, as the law requires.
Chandler, a former Speaker of the House who chairs the Public Works and Highways, Rules and Capital Budget Overview committees, said Thursday that his bill will require the transaction be reviewed and approved by the Long Range Capital Planning and Utilization Committee,. Among other things the committee would determine whether, as the statute reads, "the property is no longer needed by the state" and commission an appraisal of its value. He said that this is "the process we have traditionally followed" and the issues surrounding the property "are things the committee considers as a matter of course." Chandler acknowledged that "this may take a while" and said that in the meantime the executive branch will have to decide whether to proceed with marketing the property or wait until the outcome of the legislative process.
Chuck Morse, president of the Senate, who has favored selling the property from the outset, reaffirmed his position Thursday. "We're going to get rid of that property,"he said. "Keeping that property is not going to happen. We've got to develop the property and get it off the state's book." The state currently budgets $386,000 a year to police and maintain the site. "I still believe Laconia should have the property," Morse said, "and I'm not going to spend millions to sell it."
Meanwhile this week a committee, convened by the governor and Executive Council, to advise the Department of Administrative Services on the transaction, recommended that the property be offered for sale "as is."
The entire property stretches over about 245 acres, divided into five parcels, three of which are leased to the city, and houses 27 buildings and several smaller structures. The main campus straddling Right Way Path consists of approximately 200 acres.
The buildings and land are beset with environmental issues the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services estimates will cost $620,000 just to assess and much more to remediate, which would become the responsibility of the purchaser. The so-called the Department of Health and Human Service's "Designated Receiving Facility," where sex offenders who have been judged incompetent to be held responsible for their actions, are housed will remain on the site, but be subdivided and retained by the state. A buyer would be obliged to maintain the infrastructure on the site for water, sewer and electrical service to state facilities adjacent to the property. The state would retain its rights to snowmobile trails on the property, which could be located with its approval. The three parcels, including the Robbie Mills Sports Complex, owned by the state and leased to the city for 99 years, which have no market value, would be excluded from the offering.
The property was appraised for $2.16 million in 2012 and the state budget projected $2 million in revenue for its sale. However, in light of the encumbrances on the site, particularly the environmental issues, the actual value of the property is very much in question.
If a private party makes an offer to purchase the property, Laconia, as the host municipality, would be given, under state law, an opportunity to match that offer.