$500,000 Block grant sought for Child Advocacy Center


LACONIA — Belknap County Commissioners approved applying for a $500,000 Community Development Block Grant on behalf of the Greater Lakes Child Advocacy Center. The grant will enable the center to purchase and renovate the building at 95 Water St., which it moved into in 2015.
The building is owned by the Granite United Way and was formerly the main office for the Lakes Region United Way, which merged with Granite United Way several years ago. The building was once located on Pleasant Street next to the Congregational Church and was the home of Saint James Episcopal Church until the mid-1960s.
The approval came following a public hearing Monday.
The center is part of a statewide network of advocacy centers which helps young victims of physical and sexual abuse and has been located in Laconia since 2006.
Director Meghan Noyes said that in 2015 the center handled 225 investigations of physical or sexual assaults involving children in the Lakes Region area.
The center coordinates child abuse investigations using a multi-disciplinary team approach. Professionals from law enforcement, child protective services, victim advocacy, the Greater Lakes Child Advocacy Center, the Belknap County Attorney's Office, and medical/mental health professionals join together at the Child Advocacy Center to investigate child abuse and provide best practice care to children and their families. Children are interviewed by one person in a child-friendly, neutral environment by trained Child Advocacy Center staff. The child and family receive on-site support services and referrals to appropriate community resources.

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Net gain? Push for tennis in city schools hits up against budget woes


LACONIA — Like an ill-timed lob, an effort to reinstate tennis in Laconia schools may arrive in front of school board members at the worst possible time, when they are grappling with budget cuts and a grim financial outlook.
"Given the kind of budget situation we're in, I'm not optimistic," said School Board member Michael Persson on Friday when asked about what he thought of reinstating tennis, a program cut from the district about three years ago due to budget pressures.
"Unfortunately, we have a limited amount of funds under the tax cap," Persson said.
The Lakes Region Tennis Association, a nonprofit organization of volunteers who are passionate about tennis, vows to bring tennis back to schools, and they say they can do it without seeking district funds.
"We just want them to at least put a sign-up sheet out to see what interest there is," said Kamal Gosine, head coach for the association, in a recent interview. The association won't be asking for a budget line, he said.
"This is totally free" for the school district, Gosine said.
On Friday, Gosine confirmed that he sent a letter to Superintendent Brendan Minnihan and other school officials floating the idea and asking for a decision.
This week, Minnihan reported that he received the letter, and noted, "This request would need to be discussed at a future school board meeting as well as discussed with other individuals. No decision has been made at this point."
Persson said new sports typically come with costs such as stipends for the coach, pay for officials and travel expenses. It's unclear if tennis could be folded into the school district cleanly without any cost to the district, but Gosine and others with the association are making this pitch.
In a Jan. 31 email to school officials, Gosine wrote, "We have the resources to help you in accomplishing these goals. What we need first is to get the schools to set up a sign up sheet at the middle and high schools. We are not going to cut any person from the team if they sign up. We will provide the equipment as needed, as well as some free boot camps to get the kids ready for the season, this we can do at your gyms. We can start the program in your gyms and then move to the public courts. Please let me know if we are in agreement and if you will post a signup sheet letting the kids know that we are here to help them and the schools with a Tennis Program."
One of the goals of the Lakes Region Tennis Association has always been to bring back tennis to Laconia High School through a grassroots tennis program for younger kids. The idea has been to create demand for a high school team by getting kids playing in elementary school and middle school, according to the association.
If it doesn't get done this year, Gosine said he fears it won't happen at all.
With a self-funded approach, a Laconia-based school-sanctioned tennis program could swell into a successful option, he said.
Persson said that tennis — like other sports or after-school activities — can provide much-needed activities for teens between 2 and 6 p.m., a "critical time" when students may be unattended and prone to get into trouble.
But any proposal for a new sport or activity will receive careful vetting by the School Board, based on the budget.
Last year, the Laconia School District cut its budget by $1.6 million, and Persson said teachers are the lowest paid in the Lakes Region as a result of deferred raises.
"We have teachers that are four years behind on the salary schedule," he said.
This year, Persson said he expects "substantial cuts" as part of another tough budget year.
Last June, in a budget hearing statement, Persson reported, "In order to get to the same pay levels given our 2015 teacher census, Laconia would need to increase its school budget by $1,705,163 to get to Gilford's level, $2,774,888 to get to Inter-Lakes' level and $3,217,711 to get to Concord's level."
The Laconia School Board Budget and Personnel Committee, chaired by Persson, is scheduled to meet at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 7, to discuss the budget. The Laconia School Board is scheduled to meet at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 7. Both meetings are at the Laconia School District Administrative Building, 39 Harvard St.

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County eyes $650,000 in grants for community corrections training


LACONIA — Belknap County will be applying for at least $650,000 in federal grants for programs at its new Community Corrections facility, which is scheduled to open in September, according to Kevin Warwick, the consultant from Alternative Solutions Associates who helped design the program for the facility.
Warwick told Belknap County Commissioners when they met at the Belknap County Complex Thursday afternoon that he thinks there is a real good chance that the county will receive the grants, which would cover a three-year period, because the county has developed a well thought out after-care model program for the new facility which is evidence based.
The funds would be used for staff training and, if awarded, would be available in October, shortly after the 18,000-square-foot, 64-bed facility opens.
Warwick said that the county developed a pilot program, which has been in place for nearly a year, which will strengthen its case for funding, and that there are only 10 or 15 comparable programs nationwide.
Commissioners on Friday approved a $35,000, one-year contract with Warwick's company for developing programs for the center and assisting in the development of grant proposals.
Commissioners also met with Belknap County Corrections Department Superintendent Keith Gray and Jacqui Abikoff of Horizons Counseling Center to discuss a pending application for a $400,000, three-year federal grant for a Drug Court program.
Abikoff said that the Recovery Court program, currently operating in Laconia Circuit Court, relies on volunteers who meet on their lunch hours to monitor the progress of those accepted into the program, which offers alternatives to jail sentences for those willing to undergo counseling, undergo random and regular drug testing and commit to at least 250 hours of community service.
The program has 10 participants and Abikoff said that the grant would enable the program to hire a full-time coordinator and scale it up to the point where it will be able to more than double the number of people it serves as it expands to cover Belknap County Superior Court. She projected that it could expand to up to 30 participants.
Abikoff told commissioners when the grant was first discussed last month that the grant requires a $133,333 local match, much of which can come from in-kind services already being provided. She said the funds will be used to improve the quality and intensity of services being provided, including access to health care coverage and vocational and job training.
She said that the coordinator can either be a county employee or someone the county contracts with to provide services and, that after the grant runs out in three years, the drug court which has been established will be eligible for state funding.
Both Gray and Abikoff are members of the Recovery Court. Other members include Jesse Friedman of the Public Defender's Office, Circuit Court Judge James Carroll, Belknap County Prosecutor Melissa Guldbrandsen, the Laconia Division of Parole and Probation, Laconia City Prosecutor Jim Sawyer, the Belknap County Restorative Justice Program, the Belknap County House of Corrections, Genesis Behavior Health and Laconia Drug Prevention, Education and Treatment Officer Eric Adams.
Gray said that the Department of Corrections will be the lead agency in applying for the grant. The deadline for applications is Feb. 28.

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