Meredith will look at economic sustainability in light of againg demographic

MEREDITH — At the urging of Justin Van Etten of Winnipisesogee Investments, the Board of Selectmen last night agreed to convene a committee to explore what can be done to sustain the economy of the town in the teeth of challenging demographic trends.

Van Etten told the board that he has been troubled to find that year after year between five and seven young families, including some very successful families have left Meredith for "lack of economic opportunity" and for what he described as "lack of a community around economic opportunity."

Meanwhile, Van Etten explained that the median age, which rose from 31.9 to 36.2 between 1970 and 1990, an increase of 13 percent, jumped 35 percent to 48.7 by 2010, above that of the county, the state and the nation. Since 2002, he noted enrollment in the Inter-Lakes School District has fallen 20 percent while the number of students qualifying for the free and reduced lunch program has climbed from a little more than a fifth to more than a third of school population.

Van Etten claimed that while there are few obstacles to residential development and encouragement of affordable housing, "commercial development is unbelievably hard", which represents an obstacle to creating jobs that pay enough to enable people to live in Meredith. Although he expects the retiring baby boomers to sustain demand for waterfront property for another 10 or 15 years, he suggested that stalled population growth will shrink the demand for these properties and lower their value. Finally, he warned that as the numbers of older residents grows and school children dwindles, pressures on school budget will mount, adding to the disincentives of young families to settle in town.

Van Etten suggested the selectmen establish a relatively small committee to steer the process, which would then reach out to include all the diverse stakeholders and interests in the community. He said that the New England Electric Cooperative makes funds available to study economic development and sustainability and was confident of drawing funds from other sources, He anticipated the committee could engage a consultant and operate with a budget of $50,000 to $100,000. "My hope is that it wouldn't cost the town a dime," he said.

Town Manger Phil Warren endorsed the proposal, proposing that the committee become a sub-committee of the Board of Selectmen. He recommended the selectmen solicit applications for an executive committee of seven members to set the process in motion.

Thousands of pumpkins distributed to region's schools in anticipation of Saturday's festival

LACONIA — Representatives of more than 40 schools in the Lakes Region yesterday began collecting some 4,200 pumpkins, which the students will spend the balance of the week carving in preparation for displaying them at the Pumpkin Festival on Saturday.

Early in the morning the pumpkins arrived at Visa Foods in cardboard bins loaded aboard a tractor-trailer from Newmont Farm in Bradford, Vermont and were off-loaded by a forklift. Ruth Sterling, who is managing the festival for Let It Shine, Inc., said that Belmont Elementary School, Gilford Middle School and Woodland Heights School all requested more than 400 pumpkins while Elm Street School, Laconia Middle School and Pleasant Street School each asked for about 300.

Sterling said that that the carving parties at the schools, many of them drawing parents as well as students, are one of the highlights of the festival. "This week is when the kids make the festival their own," she said.

Several officers of the Laconia Police Department, along with members of the Public Works Department and off-duty firefighters, were on hand to help with distributing the pumpkins. "I put out a call on our Facebook page," Sterling said, "and they just turned up. I've never had anyone in uniform help out before," The officers and firefighters tossed the pumpkins from bins to trucks, apparently with only one casualty.

Walt Gladstone, who owns and operates Newmont Farm, said that he grows pumpkins on 175 acres while raising corn on another 1,100 acres and caring for 1,400 Holstein cows and 1,300 heifers. The pumpkins are sold to grocery stores throughout New England. But, Gladstone said "the grocery stores only want the perfect ones." He said that with the harvest in full swing and frost in the forecast "we were concerned to get the pumpkins off the ground, but worked hard to get ahead of it." Gladstone said he was pleased Laconia had chosen to host and perpetuate the festival.

Sterling said that the farm has stocked the festival with pumpkins for years as a favor. In addition to those distributed to the schools expects as many as 3,000 more for the community carving center at the Bank of New Hampshire before the week is out.



Laconia parking garage repair work underway; level 2 expected to reopen in time for Pumpkin Festival

LACONIA — City Manager Scott Myers said yesterday that access to the middle deck of the downtown parking garage is expected to be restored by the end of next week, in time for the space to be used during the Pumpkin Festival the next day.

Bob Ayers of R.M. Piper, Inc. of Plymouth, who is supervising the work, said that where the exposed steel has been weakened by corrosion, at the foot of vertical beams supporting the ramps and along the runners of the ramps themselves, supports are being strengthened by welding fresh steel over the corroded sections. In addition, he said that some of the galvanized steel pans, into which the concrete was poured to form the ramps, are also corroded and will be reinforced with four-by-four pressure-treated lumber as a temporary measure.

City Manager Scott Myers said yesterday that he has yet to receive an estimate of what the work to reopen the garage will cost. He indicated that the upper deck will likely remain closed through the winter and repairs on the remaining ramps undertaken next spring. Bob Durfee, an engineer with Dubois & King, Inc., is assessing the condition of the entire garage, but has yet to complete his report.

City officials closed the garage on September 28 when an inspection found that the steel supporting the ramps had been compromised corrosion. A week earlier Durfee began assessing the condition of the garage at the request of Paul Moynihan, director of Public Works. Durfee said that he expected to find some damage that would require repair, but did not anticipate the extensive corrosion he found. The most severe damage, he explained, is to the ramps, where the concentration of road salt is greatest.

The garage was built in 1973 and opened in 1974. Durfee said that the garage with its exposed steel supporting ramps and decks is the only one of its kind he has encountered in the northeast, where reinforced concrete is preferred for its capacity to withstand constant exposure to road salt during the winter. Since then it underwent a major upgrade in 1996, which included repainting the steelwork. In 2005, repairs were made to the decks and the middle deck was overlaid and sealed and leakage into the commercial spaces beneath the garage was addressed in 2008.

As part of condominium-like arrangement, the city owns approximately two-thirds of the parking spaces on the second and third levels of the garage, as well as the access ramps.