The gift


By Adam Drapcho

LACONIA — With all of the parties, family gatherings, religious services and gift shopping, it's easy to get caught up in one's own little world in the holiday season. That's why Marie and David Ludwick of Center Harbor have made efforts to assist others an intrinsic part of their family's Christmas experience.

It started about 30 years ago, Marie said, when the family went on a church-sponsored missions trip to Haiti.

"It just made me much more appreciative of how fortunate we were," she said.

She also realized that, although the problem of poverty is overwhelming when considered on a global scale, it was still possible for her to make a positive difference in someone's life. Since then, she has made sure to open the world of service to her children, and now her grandchildren. This year, she and her grandsons, Gabe and Koen Staples, went to a drug store to purchase personal care goods, which they sorted into bags and delivered them to the Carey House, a homeless shelter in Laconia operated by the Salvation Army.

The personal care bags won't solve the problem of homelessness in the Lakes Region, but, said Marie, they will help someone through a difficult time. Her mantra, which she hopes to impress upon Gabe and Koen, is: "Nobody can do everything, but everyone can do something."

The Ludwicks aren't alone in their tradition. Leonard Campbell, parish and community services coordinator of New Hampshire Catholic Charities, said many families will reach out to his organization each year. Sometimes they might purchase items that are in need at that time, others will do what he termed "adopt a family," wherein they will purchase a list of gifts, ensuring that there will be merriment on Christmas morning. The gifts are given anonymously, with Campbell acting as the liaison in the middle.

"It's really remarkable, we have a very generous town, a very generous city," he said.

Although the items are appreciated, and often needed, by the recipients, Campbell said the greater value is found in the symbolism of the gesture. "It is giving the people that are receiving it hope. Hope that people care, but also that things can be different."

Campbell said that his organization has already met its clients' needs for Christmas this year, but encouraged anyone who wanted to participate in next year's holiday assistance to contact his organization. Or, for suggestions on other organizations active in their own community that could use help, he recommended asking a local welfare office or police department.

Those who don't want to wait until next Christmas can contact St. Vincent de Paul, located on Union Avenue in Laconia. The all-volunteer organization operates a thrift store, food pantry and children's assistance program, and provides financial assistance to residents in Laconia and surrounding communities. Erika Johnson, president and store manager, said there are about 135 volunteers at St. Vincent de Paul, and they frequently will bring children in to help.

"I think it's important for people to do that, so that the whole family knows about the needy in the area," she said.

If a person or family wanted to do something for this holiday season, Johnson suggested starting by contacting someone helping to deliver a service, such as one of the managers at St. Vincent de Paul.

Jo Carignan, manager of the St. Vincent de Paul food pantry, said she would welcome any sort of donation. "Anything and everything you'd put on your table, someone else would put on theirs."

However, she added that donations of hours would be just as welcome as donations of goods.

"We need volunteers as bad as anything right now, especially on Wednesday nights," she said.

Johnson said volunteers would be appreciated in the thrift store as well.

A cashier at the thrift store, June Huot has brought her son and daughter in to volunteer with her.

"Until I came here," she said, "I had no idea how much need there was in this community, and how much good this organization does."

St. Vincent de Paul's food pantry assists about 300 families each month, a figure which has doubled over the past 13 years.  Proceeds from the thrift store, which Johnson said is open to the general public, help fund the food pantry and other charitable endeavors.

Johnson, a grandmother, enjoys seeing young volunteers come in to the store or food pantry. For many of them, it's the first time they've realized that there are neighbors and classmates who live a very different life.

"They live in a bubble," said Johnston. "Everybody doesn't have what they want. I want them to be able to see what's around them. I think coming in here, it really opens up their eyes."

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City, state officials begin talks on sale of State School land

LACONIA — Conversation between city and state officials about the sale of the former Laconia State School property on North Main Street opened Thursday when Mayor Ed Engler and City Manager Scott Myers met with Michael Connor, deputy commissioner of the Department of Administrative Services at City Hall.
Engler said that the meeting "provided us with a very solid basis from which to proceed" and that he expected to brief the City Council and general public "very soon, if not this month, in January."
The sale of the property was included in the 2016-2017 state budget, and the terms of the transaction in companion legislation. RSA 4:40, the statute governing the sale or lease of state property, provides that once the state determines it has no need for a property, "the governor and council shall first offer it to the town, city or county where it is located."
However, Engler said Connor explained that this offer does not represent a right of first refusal, but instead is contingent on an appropriate price. He said that the Department of Administrative Services will hire a broker and put the property on the open market for six months to determine its market value.
While the property is on the market, the city would be entitled to present an offer and Engler anticipated that the department would disclose any offers from other parties to city officials. The highest and best offer for the property would be taken as its market value and it would be offered to the city at that price. The city would have at least 30 days to match the offer.
But, contrary to the statute, the transaction would be exempt from the review and approval of both the Council on Resources and Development, a panel representing executive departments and agencies, and the Long Range Capital Planning and Utilization Committee, consisting of four members of the Senate and four members of the House of Representatives. Instead, the sale would require the approval of only the Governor and Executive Council.
The state budget includes $2 million in revenue from the transaction. In 2012 an appraisal prepared for the state by the Bureau of Right-of-Way of the New Hampshire Department of Transportation placed the value of the site at $2.16 million.
Engler, who has favored purchasing the site, reaffirmed he would advocate acquiring it if it were offered to the city for its appraised value or less. At the same time, he expected any private parties interested in purchasing the property would seek assurances from city officials that their plans for its redevelopment were compatible with the interests of the community. Nor did the mayor exclude the possibility that the city might acquire the property, but subsequently transfer all or some of it to private interests to further its development.
The property consists of slightly less than 200 acres bounded by North Main Street to the east, Meredith Center Road and Eastman Road to the north and Ahern State Park to the west and south and divided roughly in half by Right Way Path. Among the 26 buildings on the site, the appraiser found less than a handful salvageable and estimated the cost of demolishing the rest at more than $2 million.
An initial assessment of the site by Credere, LLC of Westbrook, Maine in 2010 indicated that there were typical but significant environmental concerns, most of them confined to the 75 acres housing the buildings. As the party responsible for the environmental contamination the state cannot qualify for federal funding to address it. But, the city qualifies for funding to assess the extent of the contamination and if were to acquire the site, would be eligible for funding from the United States Environmental Protection Agency to address contamination.
The state first sought to sell the property in 2011, offering it to the city for $10-million. However, soon afterward, two appraisals, one by the state and another by the city, found it was worth about a fifth that much. In April 2012, the Laconia City Council offered to purchase the property, together with the Robbie Mills Sports Complex, an abutting 10.2-acre parcel owned by the state and leased to the city for 99 years, for $2.16 million. The state did not respond to the offer. The property has been on the open market ever since, but the state has received no offers for it.
Connor said the state spends approximately $330,000 annually to maintain and police the property, apart from the cost of any urgent repairs like the replacement of a failing roof.

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Gilford superintendent search committee formed

GILFORD — The committee for the search for a new superintendent has been formed and has set a target deadline for hiring for early March.
School Board Chairman Karen Thurston said Thursday that the search committee is headed by School Board members Chris McDonough and Rae Mello-Andrews and consists of 14 members.
Thurston said the committee includes staff members, teachers, members of the community, parents, and School District Business Administrator Scott Isabelle.
After leading the school district for five years, current Superintendent Kent Hemingway told the board in September he will retire at the end of this school year.
Thurston said the school district is being assisted in its search by the New Hampshire School Boards Association and by Dr. Robert Lister, who is the mayor of Portsmouth and is the former superintendent of schools in that community.
Thurston said the candidate search committee is scheduled to meet next week and will make a full update on their progress at the next School Board on Jan. 4.

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