Hazardous bypass?

Fatal crashes on highway give rise to safety reminders


In the wake of two fatalities on the Laconia Bypass within a week's time, police reminded motorists to exercise caution and practice defensive driving on the 5.5-mile-long north-south highway.
Bypass 23Jan17317771 DSTwo people died in separate crashes, the first from a collision between a Chevrolet Cobalt and a dump truck shortly after 2 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 12, which claimed the life of Arline L. Downing, 88, of Laconia; and the second in a two-car collision on Wednesday evening, Jan. 18, in which Bree Robinson, 33, of Meredith, sustained fatal injuries after her Honda Civic was T-boned on its passenger side by a 2004 Toyota Land Cruiser.
Laconia Police Capt. Matt Canfield reported that a preliminary investigation indicated that Downing, driving southbound toward Belmont, was straddling the fog line at the edge of the northbound lane and entered the path of a 1989 Ford dump truck traveling northbound toward Gilford.
Gilford police and fire officials reported that Robinson, the victim of the second crash, apparently lost control of her Honda Civic and traveled into the northbound lane where her car was struck on its passenger side by the Land Cruiser.
Gilford Police Lt. Kris Kelley said he can't remember a stretch of time when so many fatalities occurred on the bypass in such a short period. He counted four fatalities since last summer, when counting crashes on the Gilford and Laconia legs of the Route 11 connector road. In late June 2016, a motorcyclist was killed in a collision on the bypass; and last October, a Belmont man died when his vehicle plunged off the northern end of the highway.
Crashes tend to result in severe injuries or death, due to speeds involved and the frequency of head-on collisions, officials noted.
"On the bypass, it's not uncommon for vehicles to be traveling 60 mph or more, so the accidents tend to be more severe," said Laconia Police Chief Christopher Adams.
"When you're driving, whether it's on the bypass or any other road, take special precautions," Adams said.
Both recent crashes remain under investigation, but Adams said most motor vehicle accidents involve a range of outside factors, such as weather, driver inattention or road conditions.
The bypass itself, a limited-access highway linking Belmont to Gilford, has its pros and cons from a safety standpoint.
"There's a pretty good line of sight, and it's pretty straight in most parts of it," Adams said.
Yet, with its long straightaways, the bypass also tempts drivers to speed, and its long slopes and staggered passing lanes invite drivers to try passing in high-speed corridors, while a handful of on-ramps and off-ramps require drivers to merge.
Kelley said, "Anytime you have a not-physically-divided, high-speed roadway, it's obviously a roadway where you have to exercise caution."
With no median and no barriers on the center line, the bypass and similar roads can be unforgiving of driver mistakes, he said.
"Defensive driving is an absolute must on those roadways," Kelley said.
Ironically, a state contractor last summer repaved most of the bypass and incorporated changes aimed at making the road safer.
"In the parts where it's just one lane each side, there were a few yellow dotted passing zones, and we actually got rid of all of those with the paving job we did last summer," said Levi Byers with the construction bureau of the New Hampshire Department of Transportation.
The $2 million project eliminated dotted yellow lines indicating that it's safe to pass, Byers said. The "pavement preservation" job also involved updating guardrails, replacing wooden posts with steel. The job encompassed all but less than a mile from the Route 106 overpass to the Route 107 underpass, which will be tackled under a different project that will rehabilitate these bridges, he said.
Bill Boynton, public information office for the NHDOT, said a grouping of crashes on certain roads can prompt safety audits, but that no such process had been called for with the bypass. Officials first need to ascertain the factors leading to the recent fatal collisions, a process which takes time.
"Every day we're working to make the highways as safe as possible, but the investigations into how or why something happens may take weeks," he said.

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Pleasant Street School vies for 'School of the Year'

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Sam Gray (left) and DeMornay Cooper practice cursive in Jeff Greeley's fifth-grade class at Pleasant Street School. (David Carkhuff/The Laconia Daily Sun)

LACONIA — The rallying cry of "We Are Pleasant Street School" could become a motto heard across the state.

Pleasant Street School is a semi-finalist for the prestigious "School of the Year" award, offered by the independent, nonprofit New Hampshire Excellence in Education Awards board.

On Tuesday, Feb. 7, Principal David Levesque and staff members Gail Bourn, Rebekah Gonzalez, Jeff Greeley and Linda Thomas will make their case to the "ED"ies board in Concord in a 30-minute verbal presentation. If they advance and win the award, the school will be invited to the annual "ED"ies awards celebration, scheduled for June 10 at the Center of New Hampshire, Radisson Hotel, Manchester.

The introduction of preschool last year represents one of dozens of risks the school has taken to improve education, according to the team of educators, who were honing their half-hour pitch this week by rattling off initiatives and success stories.

"The risks are now becoming habits," Levesque said.

Thomas, a kindergarten teacher at Pleasant Street School, said the pilot preschool program which started at the school last year ended up being expanded across the district this year.

"It's starting small, but you can see a difference," Thomas said.

Nothing at Pleasant Street School is done in a predictable way, the educators said.

Levesque recalled a pancake breakfast where teachers brought the skillets and cooked pancakes for parents. Students from the Huot Technical Center helped out. "We just about ran out of pancake batter."

Anecdotes about fundraisers and get-togethers give the impression that Pleasant Street School takes the conventions of an elementary school and goes an extra step.

When the United Way asked for volunteers, about 300 students jumped at the chance. An art show was piggybacked on a holiday party with startling success. First-graders wrote persuasive essays to help build a walking path.

Next week, Pleasant Street School will start a new program called, "We Connect." Everyone in the building will participate in this mentoring program, where kids are linked to adults they can trust, Levesque said. The goal is to become a "trauma-sensitive school," he said.

This program, like the Positive Behavior Intervention Supports program, could become a model for other schools, he said.

Two years ago, seven of the top 10 students in the high school class came from Pleasant Street School, Levesque said. Laconia High's Tate Aldrich, named 2017 New Hampshire Teacher of the Year, attended Pleasant Street School as a student, Levesque noted.

Bourn, academic coordinator at Pleasant Street School, recalled that four years ago, a team from the school went down to Harvard to learn about instructional rounds, an educational method modeled on medical rounds in which "you go around the classroom with a small group of people and observe what is happening, and from there you collect the data from the whole school."

Bourn said Pleasant Street School connects curriculum with the community. Whether it's through field trips or exercise activities, "it isn't this passive learning within the four walls of the classroom," she said.

Jeff Greeley, fifth-grade teacher, said reaching outside the campus has been a point of emphasis. "It's embedded in every year. Every time we talk about our past students and the ones who keep coming back, there's really a sense of community. Everything we do is community based. Whether it's faculty led or student led, the kids know that they have a place, they have a purpose here," Greeley said.

An air of excitement permeates the school, Greeley said.

"The kids are always wanting to come back, and consequently people are wanting to come in as well, and you can see that in our enrollment," he said.

Last year, Pleasant Street School's enrollment was 282 students. This year, numbers have climbed to 302, 318 with preschool, Levesque reported.

Thomas, who partners with Greeley's fifth-graders on a reading partnership, said she can see results in the older kids. "It makes me cry when I look at our classes together because they'll come down to my room where they were 5-year-olds just five years ago. The confidence in them, they're reading, they're mentors, they're helping. They're going above and beyond," she said.

Bourn said activities incorporate curriculum. "What I see is they're using reading, writing, math, all of that, they're using the content area. Somebody might say, 'That's really great, you're doing all those activities.' But the learning is embedded within that. They're practicing their skills rather than sitting in the classroom filling out a worksheet."

Two years ago, Pleasant Street School won an "ED"ies award for healthiest school in the state.

Gonzalez, a physical education teacher, said when students solicited donations for sneakers, the community responded, a theme in the teachers' presentation.

"All of these things we do create relationships. We can do these and go to the community because we have the strong relationship with the community and the staff and students," she said.

Even the afternoon announcements demonstrate an organic, authentic enthusiasm, the staff said.

When Levesque finishes rattling off updates, he recites, "Be proud, be safe and be yourself because we are. …" This catchphrase prompts the students, in unison, to scream, "...Pleasant Street School."

"That wasn't something that was prompted or taught to kids. It built over the last few years," Gonzalez said.


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Jeff Greeley and special ed teacher Kristi LaBontee lead a discussion in a fifth-grade class at Pleasant Street School. (David Carkhuff/The Laconia Daily Sun)

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Wayne Bennett to succeed Henry Lipman at LRGHealthcare


01-24 Wayne Bennett - LRGH CFOLACONIA — Wayne Bennett, who has served as chief financial officer of Franklin Community Heath Network in Farmington, Maine, since 2012, has been appointed to succeed Henry Lipman as chief financial officer of LRGHealthcare. Lipman will leave LRGHealthcare at the end of the month after 32 years with the organization, and Bennett will begin his tenure on Feb. 13.

In a prepared statement Kevin Donovan, president and chief executive officer of LRGHealthcare, said that "we are fortunate to have an individual of Wayne's caliber join our organization. I know he will have a meaningful impact on our continued evolution as a high-quality and well-functioning health care provider."

Likewise, Bennett said, "I look forward to joining the community and working with the outstanding medical staff, dedicated employees and board of directors of LRGHealthcare, who have demonstrated to me their commitment to continue to provide the Lakes Region with the quality health care it deserves."

Bennett has spent three decades directing and planning the financial affairs of health care care systems. The Franklin Community Health Network, with net revenues of $80 million, is a rural, nonprofit health care system. Under Bennett's direction, the financial performance of the organization has consistently improved and he also played a key role in integrating the organization into the Main Health, a consortium of more than a dozen providers working together to ensure the highest quality of care and treatment for the communities they serve.

Bennett has also served as vice president of finance at Central Main Healthcare in Lewiston, director of finance at Prince George's Hospital in Cheverly, Maryland, and as chief financial officer at both Mercy Health Systems in Portland, Maine and Mt. Ascutney Hospital in Windsor, Vermont, where Donovan was president and chief executive officer before joining LRGHealthcare.

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