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Ashland voters being askedto purchase 'new' library building

by Thomas P. Caldwell

ASHLAND — Trustees of the Ashland Town Library, citing crowding at the Scribner Library, are hoping voters will agree to purchase the former Ashland School from the Tri-County Community Action Program. A $950,000, 10-year bond issue will be on the ballot for a decision on March 11.
TCCAP purchased the three-story brick building from the Ashland School District in 2008, paying $1 plus a $44,000 reimbursement to the school district for the demolition of the former high school building. Community Action then spent $1.25 million for restoration and improvements to the school, bringing the building up to code, installing new heating and cooling systems and a zoned sprinkler system, and putting in energy-efficient lighting and windows, as well as building a handicapped entrance and installing an elevator to provide access to all floors.
The building, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was built in 1877-78 and served as a school until 1990. The new Ashland Elementary School sits on an adjacent parcel and the library trustees cite that as one of the attractions of the building: It is a short, safe walking distance from the elementary school so students could use the library for in-school visits and after-school activities.
In addition to the main circulation area on the first floor, there would be three office spaces that could serve as rooms for study and tutoring. There would be triple the current space for a children's room — the Scribner Library has room for only 12 children  — and when the library holds a reading program, they have to remove the furniture from the room. There also would be a computer lab with space for laptop users.
Plans also call for a young adult area on the second floor, with space for the storage of historical records and volumes. The main collection also would be on the second floor, along with the library's audio-visual collection, work tables, and comfortable seating.
The third floor has a large space with original woodwork, blackboards, and a divider that could accommodate large and small community and governmental functions. As an added benefit, the room has great views of downtown Ashland.
The current library is housed in a two-story clapboard building owned by the town and managed by the Scribner Trustees. Library Trustee David Ruell says that, with 1,245-square-feet of space, all shelving is full and adding new materials requires dispensing with older, still-valuable materials. Although the library has a ramped entrance, it is not fully handicapped-accessible, with the second floor inaccessible for someone in a wheelchair, and it has only on-street parking.
The school, by contrast, has a dedicated parking lot with space for 15 vehicles. With 7,920-square-feet of space, it would give the library six times the amount of room for its collections, activities, and storage.
TCCAP has offered to sell the building to the town for $850,000. Having closed the Head Start classroom and discontinued the Housing and Development office, TCCAP has been using just half of one story for its remaining office and no longer needs such a large building.
The warrant article seeks an appropriation of $950,000 because, should the library acquire the building, it would need to make about $100,000 in renovations, including installing a circulation desk at the main entrance and security doors to shut off the library section when the building was being used for public events in the third-floor function room. The library also would need shelving for its books and computer work stations.
While the benefits of the move are apparent, the building's purchase may be a hard sell, coming a year after Ashland's revaluation bumped the property tax rate to $25.12 per $1,000 of assessed valuation. The first-year payment on the bonds issued would be $118,750, declining to $97,373 in the 10th and final year. Because the article involves a bond issue, it will take a 60 percent majority vote for the article to pass.
Nevertheless, the library is showing continued growth in usage, having increased the size of its collection by 20 percent in the last three years. Patron visits have increased 16 percent, items circulated increased 23 percent, and computer use has grown 29 percent, according to the trustees.
In order to prove the need, the library is inviting Ashland voters to visit the current library at 41 Main Street and see for themselves how crowded conditions are. Then, on Saturday, March 8, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., the library will be leading tours of the Ashland School at 41 School Street.
The Friends of the Ashland Library will serve free refreshments during the tours, and hold a fundraising raffle. Children will have the opportunity to read to Willow, the reading therapy dog, and listen to stories in what would be the new children's room.
For further information, see www.ashlandtownlibrary.org; call the library at 603-968-7928, or call David Ruell at 968-7716.


CAPTION: The trustees of the Scribner Library, also known as the Ashland Town Library, are hoping voters will approve the purchase of the old Ashland School to give them more space for their programs and collections. (Thomas Caldwell photo/for The Laconia Daily Sun)


CAPTION: The old Ashland School would be transformed into the Ashland Town Library if voters agree to purchase the building from Tri-County Community Action Program which recently renovated the building but no longer needs all the space. (Thomas Caldwell photo/for The Laconia Daily Sun)

Last Updated on Thursday, 06 March 2014 12:36

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Hathaway report pessimistic but Heritage group not giving up

LACONIA — A report on the future of the Hathaway House prepared by Maggie Stier of the New Hampshire Preservation and Steve Bedard of Bedard Preservation of Gilmanton concludes that "In our estimation, savings this building by moving it to a new location and investing more than half a million dollars in its rehabilitation is not a viable proposition at this time."

Nevertheless, after reading the report at its meeting yesterday, the Heritage Commission agreed to pursue a private developer or investor willing to acquire, move and renovate the Italianate home, which was built in 1872 by Samuel Clark, a prominent lawyer. "I'm not willing to give up looking for a developer," declared Pam Clark, who chairs the commission, "and Charlie (St. Clair) certainly isn't."

Stier and Bedard estimated the cost of moving and renovating the building would fall between $563,400 and $751,200, adding "our estimate for a building of this age, type and condition would be at the higher end of that range." The estimates exclude the cost of a new lot for the building.

In September, Cafua Management Company, which purchased the property in 2000, applied for a permit to demolish the Hathaway House, lending urgency to the effort to preserve it. After meeting with Greg Nolan of Cafua, to discuss alternatives to demolition Clark recently acknowledged that if the building was to be preserved, it would have to relocated. The entrance to the Dunkin' Donuts outlet next door runs within 10 feet of the front door of the Hathaway House, effectively foreclosing prospects to convert the building to a either a residential or commercial use at its current location.
Last month Stier and Bedard visited the property where they found the exterior in poor condition but the finishes and features inside in sound condition and the floor plan largely unaltered. Because the building is not of post-and-beam construction, it is not feasible to take it apart and reassemble it on another site. But, it could be moved. Bedard noted that a building of comparable size was moved about a mile along Route 4 in Epsom at a cost of $80,000, much of applied to lowering utility lines.
Stier and Bedard noted that there is a half-acre building lot nearby at 903 Union Avenue, amid other homes dating from late 19th and early 20th centuries. The property is owned by attorney Phil Brouillard, who has approached the Heritage Commission. The lot is assessed as residential land at $39,100 and listed at $199,000, though Brouillard indicated that he is "willing to negotiate."
They anticipated that renovating the building would require a new foundation and replacing or repairing the sills. New electrical and HVAC systems would be required, along with bathroom facilities. Missing windows and storms would have to be replaced. Carpets would be removed and floors refinished. Walls and ceilings need repair. The building would need to be repainted inside and out and exterior trim would require replacement or repair.

Finally, to qualify for a commercial use, the building must comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. They estimated the cost of renovation at between $150 and $200 per square foot.
Stier and Bedard note that the cost of moving and renovating the Hathaway House far exceeds the value of similar buildings in the city. For example, a similar building downtown housing professional offices is currently listed for $299,900. Furthermore, they presume that the remaining historic buildings along Union Avenue are all at risk. They observe that the center of Lakeport is dotted with empty storefronts and doubt that "a rehabilitation of the high-style Hathaway House would be a catalyst for additional residential or professional office usage in this location."
"The Hathaway House," Stier and Bedard consider "a very large and risky project." The find that a non-profit organization would be "hard-pressed to justify taking on such a large, capital -intensive project" while a private investor would be dissuaded by "the gap between rehab costs and actual or future real estate value. In our estimation," they remark, "the numbers simply don't add up."
"Be practical and realistic," they suggest. "Recognize that not everything can be saved."
Instead, Stier and Bedard recommend taking steps to salvage some components, record the history and document the condition of the Hathway House while commemorating it with a marker at the site or a display of photographs, perhaps at the Dunkin Donuts outlet. They also offer a number of suggestions for fostering support and marshaling resources to preserve other historic resources, including compiling a fund to acquire threatened properties and providing incentives for private investment in historic buildings.
Although Cafua will complete its application for a demolition permit, Clark said that Nolan agreed to "provide a reasonable window of opportunity to explore the possibility of relocating the building. He said that at this time the company had no specific plans for the property." Clark said that Nolan assured her that "there is no imminent time frame for demolition" and should the company decide to pursue that course the commission would be given sufficient notice to salvage what it can from the building.
The commission voted unanimously not to sign the demolition permit, which Planning Director Shanna Saunders said that she intends to issue. She told the commission that by not signing it "you are making a statement."
Clark told the commission that Sarah Anderson of Gilford, who has been in the forefront of the preservation effort and questions the estimates in the report, has been doing "due diligence" and speaking with building movers and contractors in search of more accurate estimates.
Meanwhile, Clark said that since Nolan indicated the commission would be allowed time to explore relocating the building, she intends to seek a developer or investor. She said that she will approach city officials for funding to place an advertisement or request for proposals in the national media as well as consider listing the Hathaway House on the real estate market at the suggestion of Rickey Persons, who attended the meeting at her invitation.

"Moving the building is still on the table as far as I'm concerned," she said.

Last Updated on Thursday, 06 March 2014 03:32

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Commissioners place priority on funding health insurance obligations

LACONIA — Belknap County commissioners met briefly Wednesday evening to discuss ways of dealing with a $974,000 cut in their proposed $26,570,000 budget for 2014 and have placed as a priority on paying the health insurance costs which are a continuing part of the employee benefits for county workers who are now in their third year without a contract.
Tuesday night the Belknap County Convention approved a $25,596, 863 budget, some $200,000 less than last year, and cut the amount allocated for health insurance from $3.1 million to $2.6 million.
Commissioners said they will meet with County Administrator Debra Shackett and other members of the administration, along with department heads, in the near future to discuss ways to deal with the cuts, which will most likely include layoffs.
Commissioners Steve Nedeau (R-Meredith) and Ed Philpot (D-Laconia) said they will wait until Commission Chairman John Thomas (R-Belmont) returns from vacation before holding that meeting.

They also plan to schedule a meeting with an attorney on what they should do about a lawsuit filed against county convention Chairman Colette Worsman (R-Meredith) and County Convention Clerk Jane Cormier (R-Alton) by the five Democrats on the convention alleging a Right to Know law violation at the Feb. 18 meeting which seeks to overturn a 7-7 tie vote on a motion to pass the commission's budget.
Shackett said that the commission will seek a legal opinion, as they did last year, on their authority to move money from one account to another within departments, and plan on doing the same thing as they did last year by moving money around to meet the county's contractual obligations to employees.
The county convention, which maintains that it has authority over line items in the budget, passed a motion Tuesday night which would require county Executive Committee approval for all line item budget transfers.
Shackett expressed confidence that department heads will be able to come up with a plan which will keep county services from being greatly impacted but said that was dependent on some factors which were beyond their control, such as a spike in the number off inmates at the county jail.
She said that the funds which the county convention added to the budget for two new positions at the county jail won't be expended until the $80,000 in health insurance benefits which were cut from the department have been allocated to existing employees.
''If inmate population doesn't spike we may be able to move to add a community corrections officer by the end of the year.'' said Shackett.
Nedeau said that the commission has received a copy of the lawsuit filed against the convention's leaders by the Democratic minority and wondered what the county would do about defense costs.
''We already don't have enough money in our budget for legal costs yet there is an expectation that we will pay. Why is this something we should pay? It's not a suit against the county,'' said Nedeau.
Philpot said that the suit was something outside the norm and were the county to pay the bill it should probably be done through a supplemental appropriation.
He also praised Shackett and other members of the administration and department heads for their professionalism throughout the entire budget process.
''You and all the folks here were extremely professional in an extremely difficult situation. It's an honor to work with you and I couldn't be prouder of all of you for going above and beyond in a situation which can only be described as horrible.'' said Philpot.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 12 March 2014 09:47

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Gilmanton police want theft charge reinstated against firefighter

GILMANTON — The Police Department prosecutor here has asked Judge Jim Carroll of the 4th Circuit Court, Laconia Division to reconsider his ruling to dismiss a charge of attempted theft against a former town firefighter.

The motion says that Carroll's decision to dismiss the charge against Bryon McSharry was in response to an oral motion made by his attorney that the prosecution responded to in writing.

"The issue before the court, as the state understood it, was whether the McSharry could legally be charged with attempted theft, not whether there was sufficient evidence to prove attempt," wrote Prosecutor Dave Estes.

The state argues that it was prepared to go to trail and can prove that McSharry was, at the time of the alleged attempted theft, a call firefighter with Gilmanton, but that he had not been at the fire department for a number of months.

On October 18, 2013 at 4 a.m., said the prosecution, McSharry was seen at the Gilmanton Fire Station by a "credible witness" who said he removed a gas key from the Gilmanton Fire Department's forestry vehicle, drove his personal vehicle to the gas pumps, and then returned the key to the original location.

When confronted, police argue that McSharry didn't provide a credible explanation.

Estes said the state should have an opportunity to present its evidence to Carroll at a bench trial so he assess the totality of the circumstances and credibility of the witnesses.

On February 19, Carroll ruled that the Court was not persuaded with the additional review of the state's pleadings and the particulars of this case "fail to satisfy the statute's required purposeful substantial step toward the commission of a crime."

Last Updated on Thursday, 06 March 2014 01:31

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