Rescue crews search Lake Opechee for possible missing snowmobile, find nothing

LACONIA — Firefighters from Belmont, Gilford and Laconia and city police scoured a portion of Lake Opechee Tuesday evening after a caller from Driftwood Drive reported a snowmobile had disappeared around 8:30 p.m.

The caller said he or she saw lights and then didn't see any.

Fire Chief Ken Erickson said four firefighters went on to the ice off Driftwood and four others entered on to the ice from Franklin Street in Lakeport.

He said police used flashlights to look around the shore.

After about an hour, Erickson call off the search saying they found no significant open water except for that around the Lakeport Dam.

"It kind of leaves a bad feeling in the pit of your stomach," said Erickson, referring to when they leave a search without really knowing what happened. "We just pray that nobody calls and says their loved one went snowmobiling and didn't return."

Shaker board accepts direction from voters on kindergarten & science teacher

BELMONT — The Shaker Regional School Board voted Tuesday night to implement the three changes request by voters who attended last Friday's Annual School District meeting.

The first was full-day kindergarten, which was petitioned on to the ballot and will be added in the 2015-2016 school year at a cost of $403,000.

Superintendent Maria Dreyer explained that there was not enough space for all-day kindergarten and universal preschool at Belmont Elementary School. As of yesterday she said she had 40 kindergarteners who has registered with Belmont and four who had registered with Canterbury — a school building with plenty of space.

Dreyer said the school still needs two classrooms for special education and that is not negotiable. By adding three additional classrooms for kindergarten, the school would forgo the computer lab, the Title 1 classroom and the readiness classroom.

Belmont Elementary Principal Sheila Arnold said Title 1 would still continue as part of general education and readiness would be handled in the first grade.

Arnold and Canterbury Principal Mary Morrison assured the school board and the one or two parents who attended the meeting that they would get it done.

Voters also elected to keep and fund the Belmont High School science teacher who had be eliminated from the budget proposal because of declining enrollments and extremely small classes at upper levels.

One of the concerns of the board was building interest in science in the middle school years to increase participation at high-level (honors and Advanced Placement) science classes.

Dreyer said she would move around some of the STEM ( Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) classes and combine students to make core classes a little bigger so a few science teachers could dedicate some time to teaching more advanced classes.

Gretta Olson-Wilder suggested sending a survey to middle school students and ask what kinds of science interests them and then matching those students to the science teachers who are trained to teach that discipline.

Richy Bryant said he was concerned about the seeming lack of interest in science.

"How do we spark that enjoyment for it?" he asked.

Middle School Principal Aaron Pope said he would like to start offering additional science themes to his STEM curriculum to create some interest as the students move on.

Both he and High School Principal Dan Clary said that for some reason students start to loose interest in science around eighth grade. The student representative from the middle school said he agreed but thinks some of it may be that some of his fellow students don't always see eye-to-eye with the science teacher. He added that VLACS (a program administered by a computer-based charter school) provides on-line programs to students in nearly all disciplines.

Pope said the standards are rigorous in the middle school and he believes as students get used to having more expected from them, they will gain better interest in science in their later years.

As to supporting the preservation of the historic but empty Gale School building, Bryant of Belmont and Bob Reed of Canterbury volunteered to work with the Friends of the Gale School Committee to look for grants and other financial assistance. Voters had tabled a request for funds to demolish the building, which sits on a perch behind the middle school, on the edge of Bryant Park.

In other news, the School Board announced they had renewed Dreyer's contract for another two years. She will earn $120,000 for 2016 to 2017, with the right to negotiate her 2017-2018 contract.

Commissioners dueling via-mail over jail-planning effort

LACONIA — Belknap County Commissioner Dave DeVoy (R-Sanbornton) claims that fellow commissioner Richard Burchell (R-Gilmanton) is undermining efforts to develop a plan for a community corrections center by providing incorrect information on the size and cost of the project, which is still in the developmental stage.
DeVoy said that two options will be presented at a March 24 meeting with consultants from Alternative Solutions Associates, Inc., the firm the county hired for $40,000 to develop a program for a community corrections facility.
One would be for a 19,400-square-foot building and another for a 23,900-square-foot building, which based on a $200 per square foot anticipated cost, would bring the construction cost in at between $4 and $5 million, said DeVoy.
''The Community Corrections Center is not 30,000-square-feet or $8 million as reported in the paper,'' said DeVoy, who called on Burchell to cite the page and paragraph in the consultant's report which has those numbers.

Burchell provided those numbers at a solo meeting he had with the press following a March 2 commissioner's meeting at which he was apparently ousted as chairman by DeVoy and commissioner Hunter Taylor (R-Alton).
DeVoy wrote in an e-mail to Burchell: ''very disappointed you demanded you deal directly with the consultant with the sole purpose of undermining everyone's efforts.''
Burchell replied in an e-mail addressed to DeVoy, calling him the "vice chair" and answering, ''I have not undermined anyone or anything''. He maintained that the information which he made available to the press came from the ''Go to Meeting'' with the consultants on Feb. 27 ''at the same time that I was being maligned for not being engaged.''
Burchell said at the March 2 briefing a community corrections facility would cost between $7 and $8 million and would require between seven and 10 new staff members and suggested it would be less expensive for the county in the long run to build a $14 million jail along traditional lines because there would be a minimal staffing increase which would hold down future staffing costs compared to what it would cost for a community corrections facility.
Burchell expressed skepticism that there was an appetite in the county for spending the amount of money he thinks it will take to build and staff an inmate rehabilitation and education center. He also pointed out that the space estimates developed by the consultant for a 23,941-square-foot facility needed a multiplier for corridors, mechanical spaces and thickness of walls which would add 30 percent to square footage..
The roughly outlined community corrections facility plan for the county would see 30 treatment beds, 20 for men and 10 for women, and 34 work release beds, 24 for men and 10 for women. The new facility, which would be built next to the current jail and possibly connected to it, would be of heavy commercial grade construction, several steps below the type of construction needed for a secure jail facility.
The e-mails between Burchell and DeVoy have been widely circulated to all members of the county convention, whom DeVoy has invited to attend the March 24 meeting with the commissioners and consultants.