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Early Sunday morning fire guts good portion of former Aubuchon's building in Laconia

LACONIA — Officials estimate a fire in the former Skate Escape/Aubuchon Hardware building on the corner or Fair and Court Streets caused over $1-million in damages early Sunday morning. From the street, approximately two-thirds of the building at 161 Court Street appears to have been gutted.

Chief Ken Erickson said the blaze was fueled in part by an old asphalt/wood roof under a newer rubber membrane.

Erickson said firefighters responded to an alarm at 2:30 a.m. and called immediately for a second alarm when they saw smoke billowing from eaves around the roof. The blaze went to three-alarms and crews from as far away as Concord and Holderness Lakes Region firefighters to battle the blaze.

According to city records, the 27,000-square-foot building has been owned since 2004 by M.T. McCarthy Realty Holdings. The building is subdivided into five rental spaces. Current tenants include LRGHealthcare (laundry facility), Little Ceasars Pizza and Northeast Electrical Solutions.

Most locals referred to the building as Aubuchon's until the hardware store company closed its doors several years ago. More recently the same space has home to Skate Escape but that business in also now closed.

The front portion of the building, roughly a 50-ft. X 50-ft. square was to be torn down to help make way for the Advanced Auto Parts Store that is in the early stages of construction in the southwest corner of the lot.

Erickson said firefighters were able to spare the LRGHealthcare laundry, which is on the Fair Street side of the building. An additional fire on Bay Street, which is one street west of Fair St. may have been started by embers flying from the building despite Sunday's rain.

No one was injured and Erickson said the cause of the blaze remains under investigation.




Last Updated on Monday, 23 September 2013 01:35

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Housing authority will use block grant to plan improvements to Stafford House

LACONIA — The Laconia Housing Authority (LHA) has been awarded two Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) planning grants by the Community Development Finance Authority (CDFA) in Concord totaling $24,000.

The first planning grant is to be used to examine the physical needs of the Stafford House, a 50 unit residential development at the corner of Church and Main Streets in downtown Laconia.

The CDBG funds, in conjunction with matching funds from LHA, will be used to perform an energy audit of the building and prepare a capital needs assessment of all of the other building systems. The results of the study will be used to prepare a CDBG implementation grant application to fund the building improvements. The new application for funding will likely be submitted to the CDFA in January of 2014. The planning study will be performed by the Resilient Buildings Group, a subsidiary of the Jordan Institute, from Concord.

The second planning grant will be used to analyze the space needs at the central office of the Laconia Housing Authority at 25 Union Avenue. The study, to be performed by the Laconia firm of Misiaszek Turpin, will examine the current office needs of LHA staff and make recommendations for the appropriate amount of office space and the optimal layout. Consideration will be given to utilizing the existing office space as well as other alternatives in the downtown area.

Laconia Housing Authority owns 311 units of service enriched housing for seniors and families in the greater Laconia area as well as administering 407 housing rent subsidies through the federal Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher program.

Last Updated on Saturday, 21 September 2013 03:05

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Defense motion relative to what jury might know about eye witness leads to postponement of sex assault trial

LACONIA — The jury trial of a Tilton man who was charged in January with one count each of aggravated felonious sexual assault and indecent exposure was postponed last week while the court considers a motion filed by his defense team regarding the actions of his accusers.

Thomas Gardner, 55, of Sanborn Road was arrested by Tilton Police on January 16 — about a week after two men, Joseph Ernst and Mark Corenti, reported to police they had seen him performing a sex act in his car on a disabled 20-year-old man while parked in a manufactured housing park off School Street in Tilton.

According to paperwork filed with the Superior Court, the defense said it has recently learned that Tilton Police officers investigated a reported theft at Sherryland Park four days later and the two men who reported Gardner for sexual assault were suspects in the alleged theft.

While being questioned about the alleged theft, one of the men is said to have told a Tilton Police Officer that if the police were to charge him with theft, he would refuse to testify in the rape he says he witnessed.

New filings also indicated that the officer who was investigating the reported theft from Sherryland Park was not involved in the investigation regarding Gardner's alleged rape of the disabled man.

Belknap County Superior Court Judge James O'Neill had previously denied a motion filed by Gardner's defense team to let similar evidence be presented to the jury. With the new information, Gardner's defense team asked the judge to reconsider his earlier ruling and allow what they consider exculpatory evidence to be given to the jury.

Gardner's defense team said it got the information on September 12, which was after jury selection on September 9. The court had already ordered the prosecution to provide any exculpatory evidence to the defense and, with this new information, Gardner's defense team said in its motion it wants to pursue a different theory of the case — namely that Ernst and Corenti made up the story about Gardner and young disabled man because they were at the park unlawfully.

The state's case is pretty cut and dry. Police and prosecutors contend Gardner took the 20-year-old disabled man who was left in his care to Sherryland Park, where he had him perform a sex act. The victim is unable to communicate and, according to police affidavits filed in January, has two brain disorders, is autistic, and epileptic.
Ernst and Corenti told detectives they were at Sherryland Park looking for a mobile home that they thought was for sale. One of them said he went up to Gardner's Volkswagen to ask him if he knew anything about the trailers.

The man said he initially thought Gardner was alone but when he went to his window he allegedly saw the two men engaged in a sexual act.

The men called 9-1-1 to report what he saw and gave police the license plate number of Gardner's Volkswagen but his cell phone connection died. The witness called police back about an hour later to report the same Volkswagen was now parked in the driveway of a house on Sanborn Road.

Police went to Gardner's house and said he didn't seem upset or defensive by what they were saying. He offered to take a lie-detector test so police would know he hadn't done anything wrong. Affidavits also reflected that Gardner asked police what would happen to his accusers if police determined they were lying.

The court has denied the Gardner's request for a lie-detector test to be presented to the jury.

Court filings show Corente has been convicted of two felony counts of driving after being deemed a habitual offender, one conviction for misdemeanor theft, one conviction for possession of heroin, and one conviction for bail jumping. The court ruled this evidence could be given to the jury if Corente were to testify against Gardner.

The same police affidavit said Gardner was initially reluctant to allow detectives to enter the home to make sure the disabled man was unharmed. Gardner eventually did consent however police found the alleged victim to be so severely disabled they were unable to communicate with him.

Gardner told detectives he and the alleged victim had gone for a ride and had stopped at Sherryland Park to see if the view was different as some trees had recently be removed.

No date has been set for the motion hearing and new trial.

Last Updated on Saturday, 21 September 2013 02:57

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It's been an honor & a privilege. . . Love, Maggie'

LACONIA — "it's hard to leave," Maggie Rushbrook conceded yesterday, her last as head nurse at the Community Wellness Center at Normandin Square as she was showered with cards, flowers, food and gifts by those with whom she has shared the last decade.

"She is the heart beat of the Wellness Center," said Lorraine Parkhurst of Gilford. "She has worked here heart and soul. If you had come her earlier, you wouldn't have gotten in there were so many people here to say goodbye."

In 2004, when LRGHealthcare announced it could no longer sustain the center, Rushbrook, together with John Allen, a retired minister of St. James Episcopal Church, led the effort to place it on a sound financial footing and in a suitable permanent home. With the support of generous clients, individuals and businesses as well as assistance from the hospital company, they raised the funds to purchase the space on the ground floor at Normandin Square Apartments while increased memberships defrayed operating costs. Since 2006 the center has operated as a self-supporting department of LRGHealthcare.

"Together we have turned a dream into a reality," Rushbrook wrote high on a wall of the center. "The Center is an outward sign of an inward faith and determination. Thanks to all who believed!"

Rushbrook said that the center offers supervised exercise regimens designed to increase stamina and strength for individuals with a wide range of medical conditions that hinder their mobility. "We have people in their late 30s and one person 96 years old," she noted. But, just as important as the physical exercise, she stressed, is the social camaraderie. "They renew old friendships and make new ones," she remarked. "if someone is missing, they'' get a phone in the next day to make sure they're okay."

As one person after another said their goodbyes, Rushbrook said "it's a roller-coaster around here. One minute you're laughing and the next you're crying."

A message, penned on a whiteboard, read "if you love your job, you will never work another day in your life. It has been an honor and a privilege to care for and to care about you. Love, Maggie."


CAPTION: Maggie Rushbrook (center and inset) is surrounded by just some of the many men and women she has served at Community Wellness Center who paid their respects when she retired yesterday (Laconia Daily Sun photo/Michael Kitch)








Last Updated on Saturday, 21 September 2013 02:48

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