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Chris Guilmett takes over as chairman of Laconia School Board

LACONIA — Chris Guilmett was elected chairman of the Laconia School Board last night.
Guilmett, of Ward 4, was unanimously elected by the board's six other members. Guilmett succeeds Joe Cormier who remains on the board representing Ward 6. Stacie Sirois was unanimously elected vice chairman.
The election of officers followed the swearing in of Scott Vachon and Beth Aresenault who were re-elected to the board in Tuesday's municipal elections. Both ran unopposed.
Much of the board's 45-minute meeting was taken up with a presentation on the Community Engagement Program at Woodland Heights School. Principal Dennis Dobe and Student Services Coordinator Marcy Kelley told the board how the program strives to involve parents and other community members in an effort to help students at the elementary school succeed, not only academically, but behaviorally.
"Social learning is as important as academic learning," Dobe told the board.
He explained that the program at Woodland Heights utilizes the Common Core academic standards, as well as basic learning requirements in basic studies, such as reading, writing and mathematics.
Vachon said he was pleased that the Woodland Heights' program is addressing what many educators nationally say is the need for a more comprehensive approach to early childhood education.
"It's nice to see we're already ahead of the research," Vachon said.
At-large board member Michael Persson said the program's use of community partnerships was important and he hoped that the school would tap even more community resources.
NOTES: Guilmett said that the board and the board's Budget Committee would meet again on Nov. 19. At that time the committee is expected to take up plans to undertake further improvements at Laconia High School. The School Board is looking for support for a $1,828,000 federal, interest-free bond to fund the project. The Laconia City Council has scheduled a public hearing on the bond request for next Tuesday and is expected to give the proposal a second reading after the hearing. . . . . . Superintendent Terri Forsten reported that 228 students had received various items from the Care Closet at Laconia Middle School. The items, which are issued to students from disadvantaged families, include personal care items, clothes and backpacks. The Care Closet has received 66 bags of donated items so far this year, she said.

Last Updated on Thursday, 07 November 2013 03:10

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Development of Strafford County jail followed exact opposite pattern as here

LACONIA — In the course of planning a new county jail and community corrections program, the Belknap County Commissioners have taken the facility and programs introduced in Strafford County (Rochester) as a model.

Ray Bower, Strafford County Administrator, said that a new jail with 65 beds was built in 1985 with the expectation it would serve the county for 20 years. "It lasted three years," he said, "and by the 1990s was housing more than 100 inmates in overcrowded conditions.

The county commissioners, Bowers said, contacted the National Institute of Corrections (NIC), a federal agency that provides training and technical assistance to state and local correctional institutions. He said that the county commission decided to build what he called "our father's jail," by expanding the existing facility at a cost of $12.5 million.

Bowers said that the commissioners tailored the proposal to what they believed the county convention would accept — the least expensive alternative. However, the convention rejected the plan by a convincing margin of 28 to 7. Instead, the representatives directed the commissioners to design an integrated criminal justice program; that is, a new facility complemented by therapeutic and educational programming designed control long-term operating costs of incarceration by addressing recidivism and managing the inmate population.

A year later the commissioners presented the plan, which bore a $25 million price tag. Bowers said the convention approved the proposal by the same vote, 28 to 7, with which it rejected the first proposal.

Bowers said that the facility, with 500 beds, houses about 150 inmates from Strafford County and another 150 "boarders," placed there by federal and state agencies as well as other counties in New Hampshire. Since 2004, when the jail opened, the county has received $42.7 million in revenue from housing inmates from federal agencies and other jurisdictions. "That is 200-percent of the cost of the facility," Bowers said.

Meanwhile, Bowers said that with the programming provided at the facility the population of inmates from Strafford County has "remained flat." In addition, the county corrections department manages some 400 inmates in the community, 80-percent of whom would otherwise be incarcerated without the programming to return them to the community.

Last Updated on Thursday, 07 November 2013 03:03

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Parks & Rec has moved to Belmont Mill

BELMONT — The Department of Parks and Recreation has relocated to the second floor of the Belmont Mill, vacating the space it held in the former Winnisquam Fire Station.

On Tuesday, Town Administrator Jeanne Beaudin told the Budget Committee that the town has had "expressions" of interest in the former station and because the Lakes Region Community College had relocated its Culinary Arts Program from the mill building, the town relocated parks and rec into the second floor class room formerly used by the school.

"We brought it back to the village," she said. "It made sense."

Town officials have been taking a hard look at the historic mill and its future uses since they learned the fourth floor was ill-suited to continuing as a restaurant and culinary arts program.

In late 2012, the town learned the fourth floor of the mill was sagging. The problems were found when LRCC asked the town for some new carpeting to be installed over the winter vacation and Chef Patrick Hall mentioned a soft spot in the dining room floor.

Further inspection showed the floor was weak and, over time, officials realized that some of the reconstruction work contracted for during the restoration had not been done the way the town thought it had been done.

LRCC relocated, eventually landing at Shaker Village in Canterbury, and the town had  engineers complete a structural review of the mill.

The town also took an inventory of all of its municipal buildings and determined that the mill needed some work on the fourth floor and with the heating, ventilation and air conditioning system but was otherwise quite sound.

Officials also learned the old Winnisquam Fire Station was not worth repairing and was not suited to be a fire station.

With a partially vacant mill on their hands, selectmen looked toward the mill as a place to relocate all of the town offices some day and the relocation of the Parks and Recreation Department is the first step down that road.

Beaudin told the Budget Committee last night that the town is setting 2019 as a rough target date for the overall relocation.

Two-thousand nineteen is the year the town will have completed paying back the federal Community Development Block Grant loan that stipulates the programming uses for the mill, which directs its programming toward low and moderate-income usage — like the senior center, the day care and the doctor's offices.

Beaudin told the Budget Committee that Parks and Recreation Director Janet Breton had said that being in the mill and in the village is working very well for her programs.

Last Updated on Thursday, 07 November 2013 02:56

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Ful-house of mostly critics greets wind farm developer at selectmen's meeting in Alexandria

ALEXANDRIA — The regional development director for a company seeking to build its third New Hampshire wind farm knew he would be facing a hostile audience when he returned to the Alexandria Town Hall on Tuesday night, one year after he had first addressed the affected towns. Not only had the Newfound Lake Wind Watch been mounting an emotionally charged campaign against wind projects; earlier in the day, the N.H. Site Evaluation Committee had announced hearings to determine whether to revoke the company's permit to operate its Groton wind farm in light of complaints from the State Fire Marshal and concerns over changes in the original site plans for that project.
Edward Cherian of Iberdrola Renwables, Inc., nevertheless tackled the complaints head-on, beginning with the claim by Alexandria State Rep. Harold "Skip" Reilly that 50 percent of the electricity generated by the wind farm would go out of state.
"We're in a regional power pool," Cherian said, "and the power is constantly fluctuating, crossing both ways over the state lines, as the electrical demand changes."
He went on to point out that many of the region's current power plants are aging and some, such as Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant, will be going off-line, leaving a 1,400 megawatt gap in power production. When New Hampshire's Seabrook power plant shuts down to install new fuel rods, New Hampshire has to draw power from southern New England to make up the deficit, he said.
"There will be a need for power in the future," he told the crowd.
Prior to Cherian's address to the standing-room-only audience, Rep. Reilly and County Commissioner Martha Richards had slipped their objections to wind farms into their updates on legislative and county issues. Richards said she had joined Executive Councilor and County Commissioner Ray Burton in supporting the Groton wind farm, "but I'm using my woman's prerogative to change my mind" after learning more about wind power.
"I looked at wind maps of America," she said, "and the central states are great for wind turbines, but the coasts have negligible sustained winds."
Roland Richards asked her if she had actually toured a wind farm and later told the crowd that he had taken a tour of the Groton operation and asked questions. "I think there's a lot of misinformation about this," he said. "You need to take a look at what's really going on. We all need the power, but people are against hydro, they're against wind, they're against everything."
Reilly read from Article 12 of the New Hampshire Constitution concerning the "right to be protected of life and property" and he said, "Each one of you here has a vested interest in our property. An out-of-stater is coming in here to produce electricity ... and we're not going to get one watt of it. We're not getting a reduction in our electric bills, but we've got the sixth highest electric rates in the country ... This is of no benefit to tourism.
"I don't have to take a tour," he said in response to Roland Richards. "I've driven by and I've seen it."
Reilly also took up the $600,000 decommissioning bond that Iberdrola has budgeted. "Falmouth, Mass., tried wind turbines, and now they're taking them down. They've estimated the cost at $10 to $15 million to take down two wind towers. How much will it take to decommission all these (proposed) towers?"
Cherian said that, in the year since he had first brought the plans to the public, Iberdrola had revised its plans to take into account some of the objections. By switching to a newer turbine design, Iberdrola has reduced the number of proposed towers from 37 to 23 and, in the process, was able to eliminate the use of a ridge in Grafton that would have had wetland impacts and involved significant road work to access the sites. The length of collector lines also would be reduced.
Residents later would point out that people in Grafton had voted by more than a 2:1 margin to oppose the wind farm, which they felt was the real reason Iberdrola had refocused on just Alexandria and Danbury.
After Cherian said the tax benefits to Alexandria, including revenues from the land use change tax, would amount to $400,000 the first year, others countered that lost property values and impacts on tourism would more than erase that benefit.
Addressing the Site Evaluation Committee's questions about the Groton wind farm, Cherian said the company is responding to the concerns. First, he said, the State Fire Marshal does not have jurisdiction over projects in towns where there is a code enforcement officer, unless the town invites the Fire Marshal in. Second, although fire suppression that meets current codes is built into the towers, the Fire Marshal is asking for additional fire suppression measures that would meet a proposed stricter code that has not yet been adopted.
A separate issue is the complaint about the company relocating two towers and maintenance buildings from their location on the original site plan. Cherian said the changes were done with the approval of the N.H. Department of Environmental Services which has the authority to make such alterations.
Resident Bob Piehler questioned Cherian on the cost of the project, its operating expenses, and its revenues. When Cherian said he did not have all that information at hand, Piehler suggested that the revenues would be negligible and the real benefit to the company is the proceeds of the sale of carbon credits and those revenues would not be taxed by the town.
Cherian said that, while Iberdrola would be selling carbon credits, an agreement with the town would set the company's payment based on a number of factors, including the installed capacity, a percentage of its revenue, and other factors.
In response to a question about having to redo completed studies to take into account the higher towers called for in the new plan, Cherian said most of the studies are still valid, but some of them, and some of the engineering, would need to be revised.
Cathy Kendall stated, "I'm not going to pay a view tax for the privilege of looking at a wind farm," and she said there would be a net loss in taxes to the town.
Former selectman Larry Stickney asked the current Board of Selectmen if it had had any discussions with Iberdrola about payments to the town in the event that the wind farm did go in. They said there have been no such discussions to date.
In response to another question, the selectmen said they had talked to their counterparts in Groton and the Groton selectmen were pleased with their agreement.
James Apostoles complained that he already is close to some of the Groton wind towers and he said the Wild Meadow plans will have turbines even closer to his home, yet no one from the company has ever come to see him or his neighbors about the impact. "You're not looking out for the people in this state at all."
Cherian said he would stop by and discuss the impact on Apostoles' neighborhood.
Another resident said the proposed towers would be close enough to cast shadows over his solar panels. "I'm totally dependent on solar, and any loss of sunlight will affect me."
Many in the audience also brought up the compromised views from the wind towers and repeated the message, "We don't want them here."
Perhaps the only agreement amidst their disagreements came when Cherian said he, too, objected to the blinking lights on the towers. He said there is discussion among Federal Aviation Administration officials about relaxing the requirements for lights on wind towers, along with cellular towers and other high structures.
The selectmen cut off the discussion after about an hour and one-half by adjourning the meeting, leaving many people from outlying towns without an opportunity to ask questions.

Last Updated on Thursday, 07 November 2013 02:45

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