LHS’s top ten toast their teachers, parents

LACONIA – With the willing assistance of the Huot Technical Center Culinary Arts Program, the top ten graduates of the Laconia High School Class of 2015 took the time to honor their teachers and parents Tuesday night.

Each student chose the teacher who was most influential in their accomplishments and that teacher spoke briefly about that student, lauding his or her personality, identifying traits that led him or her to academic achievement.

Principal Jim McCollum said the evening was designed to recognize teacher, students and parents – who accompanied their children to the event. "When the three come together, the student always wins," McCollum said.

In order of class rank, the top ten students of the Class of 2015 are Class Valedictorian Anne Dionne, Class Salutatorian Lily Chanthasak, Class Essayist Michaela Sorrell, Erin Cashman, Troy Harper, Megan Long, Josh Morel, Cheyenne Simkins, Alana Persson and Michael O'Brien.

The awards were given Tuesday evening in the reverse order, with music teacher Debbie Gibson introducing Michael "Mikey" O'Brien as a caring, dedicated, hard-working young man who has set high goals for himself.

"Mikey is also goofy, silly and forgetful," Gibson said, adding no matter what he does, she can't get mad at him. She also credited his large, close-knit family as one of the things that made him an extraordinary person.

In turn, O'Brien told Gibson that without her support, he never would have accomplished many of his achievements. A bass player, O'Brien is planning on being a music teacher.

English teacher Tate Aldrich introduced Class President Alana Persson as a magnetic and mature person with a burdensome course load, many extra curricular activities who also has a reporter's job with the Laconia Daily Sun.

He lauded her global awareness that is being capped by a year-long tour of the world with Up With People. Persson will attend American University after her return.

Persson credited Tate with making her love reading and the English language. She remembers meeting him in eighth grade when she visited one of his classes. "In that one class, I never saw a teacher who was so 'electric,'" she said.

Math teacher Rebekah Patel introduced Cheyenne Simkins as a young woman who she first thought was shy but later saw her bloom into a natural leader who excelled in math. Simkins will continue her education at Wesleyan College.

Simkins told the crowd that she had heard Patel was "really mean" but after taking her classes she realized Patel was a dedicated teacher who made her love math. She said Patel would help her for an hour after class and during her free time so she could understand a particular math concept.

"We blended well," Simkins said, crediting Patel with helping her decide to become a special education teacher.

Business teacher Janine Farrah was chosen by Megan Long as her most influential teacher. Farrah said Long was a initially shy and gullible, but grew into a mature young lady as she progressed in school. Farrah credited Long's parents for raising such a fine girl.

Long credited Farrah with taking her under her wing and as a teacher who would do anything for anyone. She said Farrah helped her prepare for college, and was not just a teacher but also like a second mother to her.

Science teacher Ivy Leavitt-Carlson introduced Josh Morel as someone who was quiet and focused. She said she initially warmed to him because he laughed at her jokes. She said when she was told by another teacher that "Josh was not a science kid" she was very surprised because he always did so well in her class.

"He's careful, reflective and has an amazing memory," she said. "He exemplifies what it means to be a science kid," she said, adding he makes his decisions based on data.

Morel, who wants to be a science teacher, said Leavitt-Carlson is an amazing person, adviser and friend. She is someone he aspires to be like and said he was very influenced by the time she spent in the U.S. Peace Corps helping other people.

Math teacher Bonnie Ashworth introduced Troy Harper as someone who is as analytical as she is. She said he has a thirst for knowledge, a problem solver and a scientist. Ashworth said he would be going to Boston University.

Harper told the crowd he had written a speech so he might as well read it. With the dry humor Ashworth so enjoys, he thanked her for pushing him to realize his true abilities. He also noted she frequently buys his fellow students ice cream.

Citizenship and world history teacher Chris Ulrich introduced Erin Cashman as a girl who had a plan and stuck with it to the point where she was accepted as a junior into the University of Pittsburgh. With a desire to become a doctor, she passed on the summer program at St. Paul's to concentrate on shadowing physicians – something she had been doing since her sophomore year.

Cashman said it was an honor to be recognized and that Ulrich instilled in her a passion for learning. A member of the Key Club, she thanked him for being their adviser and for taking so much time to offer generously of himself.

Humanities and psychology teacher Rick Crawford introduced future doctor Michaela Sorrell as one of the nicest and kindest people he's ever taught. He said she has a "steel trap" for a mind.

"She's not snobby. She's taking notes," he said, noting she enjoys studying the human condition.

Crawford also noted that Sorrell comes to good conclusions on her own and, like most 18-year-olds, doesn't need or want to be spoon-fed information.

Sorrell said she met Crawford when she was a sophomore and knew he had a long relationship with her family and was initially intimidated about living up to the family name.

She said Crawford understands different learning styles and credited him with encouraging her interests in psychology and biology. Sorrell will attend Boston College.

Salutatorian Lily Chanthasak was introduced by French teacher Tracie Corbett who described Chanthasak's French abilities as a freshman as nothing she had ever seen before.

While Corbett said she was a little disappointed to learn Chanthasak was going into pharmacy and not languages, she credited her with being one of her students who actually corrected her French.

Chanthasak said Corbett made her love the French language, and though she will be studying pharmacology she will continue to pursue French. She said Corbett was passionate about teaching and language and that will stay with her forever.

Academic Coordinator Steve Tucker introduced Class Valedictorian Anne Dionne in a way he said she would understand best – by recreating the number of days, hours, minutes and seconds she had been studying at LHS.

He said he suspects that she exceeded the national homework average weekly hours of 6.8 by a considerable amount. He said Dionne has focus and diligence and refuses to do anything half-way. At one point, she worked on a project to improve a section of Union Avenue by working with the city, zoning laws, statistics and geography. "She has poise and grace," he said.

Dionne had Tucker for a history teacher before he became the academic coordinator. She credited him for teaching her thought-provoking political and economic issues in Laconia and elsewhere.

"Without Mr. Tucker, I never would have achieved my college mission," said Dionne, who will attend University of Rhode Island School of Pharmacy.

The Class of 2015 graduates June 6 at 10 a.m. at the Jim Fitzgerald football field.

Arbo Ministries gets 35% tax exemption

GILFORD — Selectmen voted 2 to 0 to grant Arbo Ministries of 14 Curtis Road a religious tax exemption of 35-percent last night.

The exemption amounts to about $3,000 annually using the 2014 assessed value and a tax rate of $18.30 per $1,000 assessed value.

The 35-percent reflects the amount of the building and property the Planning Board said could be used for a home-based business by David and Rev. Barbara Arbo.

The Arbos purchased the former Smiling Hill Farm two years ago and utilized the building as their home and as a non-denominational Christian prayer center for up to 35 people who occasionally visit the home. They also use a portion of the home for internet and mailing prayer sessions.

The couple had requested a 100-percent tax exemption saying that while the property serves as their home, it also serves as a parsonage. Rev. Barbara Arbo told the board this was the first home they had purchased through their 501(c)(3) non-profit account.

Selectman Chan Eddy was on the Planning Board when the approval was given to the Arbos for a home-based business in lieu of them abandoning their request to the Zoning Board of Adjustments to operate a church.

Selectman Richard Grenier said he didn't have any questions and had read through the reams of information provided to them.

Selectman Chair Gus Benevides recused himself, explaining that he had represented the seller in the sale of the property and the Arbos had their own real estate agent.

City Council turns thumbs down on Weirs Boulevard rezoning proposal

LACONIA — The Laconia City Council unanimously rejected a proposed rezoning of Weirs Boulevard Monday night following a lengthy public hearing during which business owners affected by the proposed changes sharply criticized the Planning Board's recommended rezoning plan.

The proposal would have rezoned about 2.5 miles of the boulevard south of the Naswa resort to White Oaks Road from Commercial Resort (CR) to Shorefront Residential (SFR) and an area on Lake Street from the Margate Resort Commercial Resort to Commercial. It also changed 10 permitted uses within the new district.

The plan was developed by the city's Zoning Task Force over the winter in response to a City Council request to the Planning Board for a review of all possible land uses within the CR district, which extends northward from White Oaks Road to the Meredith town line and also east along Rte. 11B to just beyond the Weirs Community Center.

The public hearing, which lasted two hours, opened with an explanation of the proposed changes with Warren Hutchins, planning board chairman, saying that they were made in response to the changing character of the Weirs area which had gone from motel and cottage rentals to condominiums in recent decades.

But Les Schuster, owner of the Lazy E Motel as well as the Bear Tree Lodge and Lakeside Getaway and the Gunstock Inn in Gilford, said that the proposal was ''a blatant assault on tourism'' and would change the character of the area in which he had chosen to invest his money.

He said that the conversion to condominiums of former cottage colonies had already reduced tourism in The Weirs and that the area needed more commercial attractions, not fewer. He maintained that the closing of the Christmas Island resort and the development now taking place had closed off the last boat launch on the lake and said that the city was also killing Bike Week as an attraction.

Don Richards of the Weirs Park Association maintained that the changes were needed and that the second home condo owners in the Weirs area contribute greatly to the economy and pay property taxes but have no voice in what happens on the boulevard.

''They don't want to show up and see a Ferris wheel next door,'' said Richards, which drew a rejoinder from a former Wolfeboro resident who now owns a home on the boulevard that people who didn't want to see new attractions near their summer or weekend residences should move to Wolfeboro.

Elizabeth Hutchins said that she thought the proposal ''is a great thing'' and said that it was developed in response to what has evolved in The Weirs and said that development of new attractions along the boulevard is very unlikely.

Attorney Patrick Wood questioned the impact of several of the proposed change, maintaining that that a combined dwelling and business would be a prohibited use, and that a ban on accessory apartments and indoor storage were also problematic.

Raymond Lavallee, who has owned the Rich Haven Cottages for 42 years, maintained that the changes would prohibit him from storing his own boat on his property and said that he opposed the proposed changes, as he felt they would take away his property rights.

He said that he owns 9 acres of land and 400 feet of water frontage and thinks that the change lowers the value of his property, which he said he has been saving until late in life to sell.

''Who came up with this idea?'' he demanded, as City Planner Shanna Saunders sought to explain how the zoning change would affect his property and that he still had the right to store his own boat on his property.

Attorney Paul Fitzgerald, representing the Naswa Resort, said that the proposed change could close off options for future expansion of the resort and could introduce conflicts with neighbors as it would have its southern boundary next to the Shorefront Residential area.

Joe Driscoll, owner of the Cozy Inn and Cottages at Weirs Beach, said that there were some good and bad elements in he proposal and that he was unhappy with the proposed change at the southern end of the district which could potentially open the door to a major auto maintenance facility being located on shorefront property.

John Ganong, who lives on the boulevard at a former restaurant and real estate sales site and whose request to sell autos as the site was rejected by the ZBA even though it had approved auto sales at another location in the same zone, prompted the City Council's request to the Planning Board for a review of land uses in the CR district, said he opposed the changes.

He also said he felt strongly that all of the people affected by the proposed changes should have received some kind of official notification that the changes were being considered.

''Most people don't know about it,'' he said.

Michael Foote of Roller Coaster Road said it appeared that real estate developers who have done condo projects seemed to be driving the process so they could protect their high end investments and pointed out that another 290 houses are planned for the Langley Cove area. He questioned how commercial development could take place along the boulevard. ''What condo group are you going to tear down in order to have a development?"

Cynthia Makris of the Naswa said her mother's family, the Saltas, had been in Laconia for 115 years and have run the lakeside resort, which provides employment for 140 people six months a year, for over 80 years.

''Why would the city do something so guaranteed to hurt our business?'' she asked, maintaining that the ramifications of the rezoning hadn't been thought through. "I take great offense to having the line drawn right next to us for a residential area.''

Charlie St. Clair, who heads Bike Week and is a partner in Laconia Antiques in the downtown area, said that he thinks there is an attempt to create a Shore Drive area along the boulevard which isn't good for the city.

''It makes no sense. Just leave it like it is,'' said St. Clair.

John Moriarty, who heads up the Laconia Downtown Initiative and was part of the task force which came up with the proposal, said ''I've been listening to the wrong people,'' and said there was no intent to hurt the city's economy. "I hate to see us being seen as unfriendly to business.''

After the public hearing ended Ward 5 Councilman Bob Hamel said that the council launched the survey of uses without any intent of ''beating down business owners'' and said he would oppose adopting the proposal.

Council members said they wanted to take action while those who had attended the hearing were still present and voted to suspend the rules in order to take action. Ward 3 Councilor Henry Lipman asked to have the proposal withdrawn and reboot the process, but Ward 2 Councilor David Bownes, who had opposed the council's action last year in requesting the Planning Board study the issue, said it would just put the council back in the same place and ''get us back in the same mess.''

Ward 6 Councilman Armand Bolduc said the proposal ''should be voted down tonight,'' and after agreeing to take up the issue again at its next meeting the council voted unanimously against adopting the proposed changes.