State has ordered caboose removed from spur RR line in downtown Laconia

LACONIA — Richard Mitchell, the owner of Pitman's Freight Room on New Salem Street, has been ordered to remove the caboose from the state-owned sidetrack adjacent to his property by May 26 and to immediately cease crossing the sidetrack to reach a parking area at the rear of his property.

The Daily Sun was supplied yesterday with a copy of the letter by David Gammon, who owns an adjacent property and has long asked the state to force Mitchell to remove the railroad car.

On April 17 Shelley Winters, administrator of the Bureau of Rail & Transit of the New Hampshire Department of Transportation, wrote to Mitchell, reminding him that in July 2004 he was informed that his lease of the sidetrack had expired and directing him to remove the caboose from it. "In researching this issue," Winters noted, "recent observations have revealed that there is no existing agreement in place between you and the state and that you have failed to remove the caboose from the state-owned sidetrack." She described the presence of the caboose as a breach of the original lease as will as "a trespass and a nuisance."

Furthermore, Winters wrote that the DOT was "troubled to learn that the caboose has become a an attractive hazard," this is, patrons of Pitman's Freight Room have been allowed to climb on it, "even while consuming alcohol". She directed Mitchell to "cease any and all activities on state property" and ensure that his patrons did so as well.

Mitchell did not return telephone calls yesterday.

"I was shocked when I saw that letter," said Gammon, who with his sister owns the property abutting Pitman's Freight Room. In fact, their two buildings are attached with the brick wall shared between them serving as the lot line dividing their two properties. The railroad line runs southwest, along Mitchell's lot then, where the two lots meet, the sidetrack runs to the rear of Gammon's lot, ending abruptly at the corner of his property where the caboose has been parked within two feet of his building since 1999.

"I've been pestering the DOT off and on for the past 15 years," said Gammon, who claims that Mitchell placed the caboose "as a grudge to devalue our property." In February, Gammon renewed his efforts, asking both Winters and Attorney General Joseph Foster why, after 11 years without a lease, the caboose had not budged. Gammon also claims the Bureau of Rail and Transit has informed him that there is no record of Mitchell paying the annual fee of $986 to lease the track since his lease expired in 2004.

Mitchell has acknowledged, "I have to do something with the caboose" and now must also make arrangements to secure automobile access to his back parking lot. With her letter, Winters enclosed information about how property owners whose lot is divided by a railway may obtain a "crossing agreement," which can take 60 days or more.

City lists streets scheduled for work this year

LACONIA — City Manager Scott Myers told the City Council this week that $1.8-million will be spent improving approximately 5.5 miles of city streets during the next 15 months.

Seven streets — Avery Street, Batchelder Street, Chapin Terrace, Cleveland Place, Dixon Street, Tyler Street and Shore Drive northward from Sands Terrace — are scheduled for major reconstruction, which will include significant improvements to sewerage and drainage.

Another half-dozen streets — Cottonwood Avenue, Harvard Street, Roller Coaster Road, Waker Street, the two southern sections of Dartmouth Street, and McGrath Street from Lyford Street to Oak Street — are scheduled to be paved with a maintenance shim and overlay.

Myers said yesterday that specifications are being determined and costs estimates for several other streets or stretches of roadway, which may be added to the schedule of projects to be undertaken in the current construction season.

Myers has asked the City Council to increase the city's annual commitment to street repair to the $1.8 million level for each of the next three years and council members have reacted favorably to that suggestion.

School board wants superintendent to be 'agent of change'

LACONIA — The School Board took an early step toward replacing outgoing Superintendent Terri Forsten Tuesday night by hosting a meeting facilitated by educator Kathleen McCabe, Ph.D.

McCabe, a professor of higher education in the Plymouth State College College of Graduate Studies, spoke for about an hour about the approach the board should take to identifying what attributes it wants in a leader to help them reach the defined goal of the district — student achievement.

"The good news," said McCabe, "is you have a good, firm foundation."

She noted the district has a history of strong leadership, of transparency when making big decisions, and of not running from challenges.

"The bad news," she said, "is that you need a new leader."

Forsten is resigning at the end of the school year in order to head the school system in the city where she lives, Concord.

McCabe told the board that change equals anxiety and "it can be tumultuous." For employees, of which there are about 350 to 400 total people, the uncertainty of change is acute.

"Prior success is no guarantee of future success," she said encouraging the members to make the process as open as possible to ease some of the anxiety that accompanies a change of leadership.

"With a lack of information, people will make up their own stories," she said, referring to uncertainty from parents, the community, and the staff and employees of the district.

After a review of the job responsibilities as defined by N.H. state law and N.H. Department of Education policy requirements for a superintendent, the key exercise of Tuesday night's meeting was to decide which of 21 key leadership responsibilities the board felt were the most important in the person it chooses for the district's new superintendent.

McCabe told them that she understood that if they could, board members would take qualities exhibited by former Superintendent Bob Champlin and Forsten, shake them up in a bag and pour out the perfect Laconia superintendent.

In an exercise designed to mimic that concept, each of the 21 responsibilities of a good superintendent/leader were listed on two easels after being distributed on paper to each member.

McCabe asked them to privately check each of the 21 responsibilities on the paper as they applied to Champlin and Forsten. Using their checklists, each member was given three sticky dots to place next to a characteristic on the easel with the purpose of creating a "scatter graph". The responsibilities with the most sticky dots identifies those the board members would like to see embraced by a new leader.

In Laconia's case, the board decided that three top responsibilities on which the district's new superintendent should be focused are being an agent of change, have top-notch communications skills, and be disciplined.

Being an agent of change, said McCabe in a telephone interview yesterday, is more subtle than it seems.

She said when change is a responsibility, to a superintendent it means he or she should be willing to make changes but also be open, willing and able to manage change throughout the district working with staff and resources.

"It's a knowledge of the change process and how to administer it," she said.

McCabe told members Tuesday night that the education field is not necessarily one that is receptive to change — unlike a private business that either changes according to its circumstances or fails.

"We so often say if it worked last year, the year before last, and the year before that it's good now...until we're back to 1986," she said.

While being a good communicator somewhat speaks for itself, McCabe told the board that a disciplined leader is one who can stay focused on the big picture and not be unnecessarily distracted by the "little things".

She gave an example of a time she said no to a group who wanted her to hold an assembly of students to explain the dangers of sun tanning. She said when she refused, the organization spokesperson had a fit and asked her why she didn't understand the dangers of tanning or think they were important.

"I did and do understand," she said was her reply. She asked them to send literature so it could be distributed to students, parents and health teachers.

Her point was that if she let every organization with something positive to say have an assembly, she would be denying students classroom time with teachers — the thing that matters most in student achievement.

Other top finishers on the list of responsibilities were a superintendent who is involved in curriculum/instruction and one who understands resources and who knows how to get them and use them the most efficiently.

Following the session, the board adjourned but now its members know what primary responsibilities they want the new superintendent to embrace.

What is still an unknown is the time line the board is using to hire a new superintendent and what will be done in the interim should one not be hired by July of 2015.

Following the meeting, Board Chair Joe Cormier said he agreed those are two key discussions the board must have and soon. He said he anticipates more information will be available during the beginning of next month.

The next regular School Board meeting is May 5 at 7 p.m. at Harvard Street School.