Parking problem - Necessary downtown garage repairs pose a challenge

LACONIA — After completing its assessment of the condition of the downtown parking garage, Dubois & King, Inc. has estimated the cost of repairs required to ensure long-term use of the facility at $1.2 million.

In October the parking garage was closed when initial inspections found that the structural steel supporting the ramps were weakened by corrosion from exposure to water and salt. Emergency repairs were made to open the garage to the second level, but the third level has remained closed.

City Manager Scott Myers said yesterday discussions currently underway about what represents "long-term use" measured in number of years and what annual maintenance costs would be incurred to optimize the life of the facility.

Furthermore, renovation of the garage will be complicated by the curious ownership of the facility, which is itself in flux. Ownership of the garage is shared between the city and a private party, Downtown Crossing LLC, whose principle is Daniel Disangro of Rosindale, Massachusetts. The publicly owned portion of the garage includes the ramps and north end of the second and third levels, including the northernmost stairwell.

Downtown Crossing owns the ground floor of the garage, except for the ramps, and the south end of the second and third levels, including the southernmost stairwell. In addition, Downtown Crossing also owns the commercial space on the ground floor housing Grace Capital Church, the Soda Shoppe and several small businesses. The second level deck of the garage, two-thirds of which is owned by the city, serves as the roof for the privately owned commercial space on the ground level.

Downtown Crossing is negotiating the sale of its commercial space, which will include its share of the garage, to Genesis Behavioral Health. Dubois & King, Inc. prepared an assessment of the privately owned portion of the garage for Genesis, which has not yet been made available to The Laconia Daily Sun.

Myers said that to restore the structural integrity of the entire complex, any repairs would have to be undertaken in coordination with the city and the private owner.

The garage was built in 1974 and provides some 220 parking spaces, about 180 of which are owned by the city. Dubois & King Inc. noted it is unique in two respects. First, parking garages with exposed steel framing and decking are rare in the Northeast, where repeated salting and sanding of roads hastens corrosion, which causes them to weaken and fail. Second, the commercial space on the ground level has no roofing system separate from the parking deck above, which has leaked over most of the life of the garage, requiring continual maintenance by the Department of Public Works.

Dubois & King found the structure of the ramps in poor to very poor condition, describing the ramps as "highly susceptible to failure or collapse." The emergency repairs made in October, the report noted, represent a "temporary solution and should be inspected an re-evaluated in 6 months." Since drainage throughout much of the second and third levels of the garage is poor, the consequent leakage corrodes and weakens the steel deck forms along with supporting beams and columns. Finally, the report noted that the decking and framing above the commercial spaces cannot be completed until fireproofing material is removed.

The major recommended permanent repairs include replacing or strengthening the decks and repairing the steel on the ramps, repairing steel beams and columns, replacing pavement and removing and reapplying paint to exposed steel.

Lawmaker to limit bare breast freedom

CONCORD — After asserting their right to bare their breasts on the beach this summer, the champions of Free the Nipple will find themselves defending that freedom in the State House this winter.
Rep. Brian Gallagher (R-Sanbornton) has filed legislation (House Bill 1525) that would make it a misdemeanor for a woman to purposely expose "the areola or nipple of her breast or breasts in a public place and in the presence of another person with reckless disregard for whether a reasonable person would be offended or alarmed by such act." His bill, which would amend RSA 645:1, "Public Indecency; Indecent Exposure and Lewdness," would not apply to the act of breast feeding.
Gallagher said yesterday that he was approached by constituents who were troubled by the thought of topless women at local beaches. Some women appeared topless at Hampton Beach last summer, and others indicated they would come to Weirs Beach. There was also an incident at the Gilford Town Beach at that time, where Heidi Lilley of the Free the Nipple campaign was arrested after a mother complained to police. Gallagher said that, after reviewing laws in other states, he found that the language in Arizona's laws would be best suited to New Hampshire.
Gallagher stressed that he has no intention of restricting or punishing private behavior in private settings. However, he insisted that in public places the conduct of individuals must be reconciled with the rights of others to share those same spaces without being offended or troubled. He said parents find it difficult to explain adult nudity to their children and are "entitled not to have an evolving standard imposed on them. If this kind of behavior is minimized," he asked, "what prevents it from taking place at a Little League game in June or a University of New Hampshire football game in September?"
Since cities and towns in New Hampshire have only the authority expressly granted to them by the state, Gallagher acknowledged that the beach regulation applied to Lilley in Gilford and the Laconia ordinance (Chapter 180) prohibiting women from exposing their breasts may not be enforceable without a state statute like he has proposed.
Meanwhile, Lilley, who will stand trial in Fourth Circuit Court, Laconia Division on Dec. 28, said yesterday she will testify against the bill, which she described as "unconstitutional." Free the Nipple contends that laws and ordinances that forbid women from displaying their breasts in public, but allow men to do so, violate the constitutional right of women to equal protection under the law by criminalizing the very state of being female. She explained that such prohibitions are based on the mistaken notion that the female breast is a sex organ, the display of which is indecent or lewd. Instead, she insisted "the woman's breast was created to feed a baby, not to be a sex organ."
Representatives George Hurt of Gilford and Peter Spanos of Laconia have co-sponsored Gallagher's bill.

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County OK’s health insurance shift

LACONIA — Belknap County commissioners say a recent switch of medical insurance providers will save the county $150,000 a year in health insurance costs next year and that they are hoping negotiations currently underway with three county unions will produce even more health insurance savings.
Commission Chairman David DeVoy told members of the Belknap County Convention during Monday night's public hearing on the county's proposed 2016 budget that, starting Jan. 1, county employees will switch from the current provider, Health Trust, to the New Hampshire Interlocal Trust, which partners with the nonprofit Harvard Pilgrim Healthcare to provide group health insurance plans for local governments.
The three State Employee Association-affiliated unions at the Belknap County Home, Corrections Department and Sheriff's Department, agreed last month to make the switch as they agreed that the new plan was comparable to the health trust plan.
The county in September received a $250,000 refund from the Health Trust and waited to receive that refund before considering switching insurers, as it would not have been eligible for the refund had it switched earlier.
DeVoy said the county is now hoping to convince the three unions to switch to a site-of-service plan that will lower rates and keep a so-called "Cadillac tax" from taking effect in 2018, which would force the county to pay a 40 percent tax on plans which exceed the cost limit.
One county union, Teamsters Local 633, which represents 23 mid-level managers, has already agreed to switch to the less expensive site-of-service health care plan. Members received a 1.4 percent pay raise as well as step increases of up to 3 percent in a collective bargaining agreement approved by the Convention by a 10-5 vote in August.
"We're very hopeful we can get employees off of the Cadillac plan and on to a site-of-service plan," DeVoy told the convention.