By MICHAEL KITCH, LACONIA DAILY SUN
CONCORD — The governor and Executive Council this week created a committee charged with advising the Department of Administrative how to proceed with the sale of the former Laconia State School property as required by the companion bill to the 2016-2017 state budget.
The city has been contemplating acquisition of the property since 2010, and in 2012 offered to purchase it for its appraised value of $2.16 million. The state rejected the offer and hawked the property on the open market without receiving another offer. Last year, Gov. Maggie Hassan included the sale of the property in the state budget and projected $2 million in revenue from the transaction.
In June, Commissioner of Administrative Services Vicki Quiram informed the governor and Executive Council of a number of outstanding issues associated with the property that would need to be addressed before it could be offered for sale. For example, there is a water tower on the property that supplies state buildings on a parcel that was carved out of the larger tract. The Department of Health and Human Services operates a "designated receiving facility," or DRF, two buildings that house sexual offenders with developmental disabilities, at the northwest corner of the property. The property is criss-crossed by easements for sewer lines and snowmobile trails. These and other encumbrances on the property must be removed or incorporated into the terms of the sale.
Executive Councilor Joe Kenney suggested the governor and Executive Council convene a committee to review the issues and recommend how the property should be marketed. Kenney said Friday that "the Legislature acted more than a year ago. This can't just be hanging out there. I wanted to push it."
"I want to thank Councilor Kenney for his attention to this issue," said Mayor Ed Engler. "In part the formation of the committee is due to his effort. We still have faith in the process outlined by the Legislature in 2015."
The resolution to convene the committee specifies it shall hold its first meeting on Aug. 31. Kenney expected the committee would meet periodically, but anticipated it would require only two or three meetings to provide Quiram with appropriate language for a request for proposals to purchase the property.
"Whether it is the city of Laconia or some other buyer," he said, "they have to know what they're purchasing."
The committee will consist of representatives of the departments of Administrative Services, Health and Human Services, Environmental Services, and Resources and Economic Development, as well as a member of the House of Representatives designated by the Speaker and a member of the Senate designated by the Senate President. In addition, the city will be represented by an designee of the mayor and the Belknap Economic Development Council by a designee of its chairman.
Engler said Friday that he will appoint former mayor and city councilor Matt Lahey to represent the city.
"Matt Lahey is the most knowledgeable person in Laconia about the property," he said.
In 2009, after the closure of the Lakes Region Region Facility, a medium security prison, the Legislature formed the Commission to Evaluate the Long-Term Uses of the Lakes Region Facility. Lahey chaired the commission and drafted its report, perhaps the most thorough assessment of the property ever undertaken. Earlier, in the late 1990s, when the state reneged on its undertaking to close the prison, Lahey, as the mayor, contributed to negotiating the lease with the state for what became Robbie Mills Sports Complex, adjacent to the Laconia State School property, to compensate the city for not closing the prison.
Meanwhile, the Department of Health and Human Services is proposing to move the "designated receiving facility" from Laconia to the campus of the Glencliff Home for the Elderly in Warren and has requested $1,325,000 in the 2017-2018 capital budget to build a new secure facility. The department made a similar request in 2012, when then Commissioner of Health and Human Services chose Glencliff over sites in Concord and Stewartstown. At the time he said that the ideal site would be distant from residential neighborhoods but close to support and medical services.
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