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Committee sets price tag for interim county jail plan at $3.5M

LACONIA — A  $3.5 million bond issue which was discussed by the Belknap County Jail Planning Committee Tuesday night is seen by committee members as a bridge to get the county to a position where it can build a new correctional facility while dealing with crowding and the lack of program space at the current facility.
The bond issue would include a 48-bed temporary housing unit, which would cost $1,584,681 for a three-year contract;  $500,000 for a schematic design for a new facility and $1 million for replacing the HVAC system at the current jail. Committee members believe that elements of the newly-installed HVAC system could be reused in construction of a new facility. The other $400,000 would be used for additional site work such as lights and fencing for the temporary facility.
Maggie Pritchard of Genesis Behavior Health, a member of the committee, said that the county needs to move ahead with the program in order to achieve compliance with corrections guidelines, meet safety standards and maintain programs.
''Until we take action we're liable to lawsuits. We should move ahead for a good reason: we need it and we need to provide jail services which are reasonable,'' said Pritchard.
“It gives us time,'' said Alida Millham of Gilford of the proposal. She is a former chairman of the Belknap County Convention who recently became a member of the committee and two weeks ago maintained that the county should act to put temporary housing in place next year.
Three Democratic members of the Belknap County Convention, Representatives David Huot of Laconia, Ian Raymond of Sanbornton and Lisa DiMartino of Gilford pressed the committee and its chairman, County Commissioner Ed Philot (D-Laconia) to develop firm information on a timeline for breaking ground for a new county correctional facility.
Philpot said that the next step for the committee, which he said has stepped back and refocused since it became apparent that a $42 million price tag for a new jail set by a New York consulting firm is out of the question, is to develop  a schematic design based on the community corrections program which has been eyed as the model for a new facility.
''We're convinced that we can reduce that much further and do substantially better on the price,'' said Philpot, who said that at best it would be two to three years before the project is ready to break ground.
''What we know is that we can't continue to operate this way.''
Huot said that a plan with firm information and a timeline is needed ''the sooner the better'' and urged the committee and Belknap County Commissioners to to meet with the Executive Committee of the Belknap County Convention to develop positive communication with the legislators who would be asked to vote for the plan.
''Lay it all out and see how much it costs,'' said Huot, who said that a forceful public presentation in order to gain support is needed and that should include highlighting current deficiencies in facilities and programs.
Philpot said the county has been reluctant to create a high profile on the current facility's problems due to concern that it will cause legal actions to be brought against the county, leading to having a federal judge in control.
Belknap County Corrections Superintendent Dan Ward said that there are currently 140 inmates  in the facility, which is designed for 120, and that the 17 women inmates are housed in the gymnasium, which keeps that part of the facility from being used for recreation during the months when outside recreation is limited.
''We've been sending upwards of 30 people away (to facilities in other counties) during recent months.  If we install a temporary facility we get all of the prisoners back and get the use of the gymnasium back as well as have some program space,'' Ward told the committee.
He said that the land where the temporary facility would be  located is level and located just to the right of the current jail and that all power, water and sewer lines can be connected directly on site and no changes would be needed to the road which serves the jail.
Ward said that the 50 foot by 100 foot temporary unit provides both fixed cells as well as dorm space and is divided by a middle wall which would allow male and female prisoners to be housed on different sides of the same structure.
“We have 50 employees and 130 inmates and can't continue to operate the facility this way” said Ward.
He said that the county could be put in a position where it would need as many as four more temporary structures during construction of a facility if it involves extensive renovation or repairs of the current structure.
County Administrator Debra Shackett said that even if the temporary housing is acquired, it won't solve the structural problems with the current facility, which she said ''is rotting away.''
She said the new HVAC system is needed as soon as possible because ''no air is moving and mold is growing'' in the jail.
Shackett also questioned what the county would be getting that it already doesn't have if it spends $500,000 more on a schematic plan for the jail.
Architect Gary Goudreau, who worked on plans for the current jail four years ago and is a member of the jail committee, said that it will allow realistic cost estimates which are based on actual design rather than estimated program and jail spaces.
He said that architectural fees are generally about 8 percent of the entire cost of a building project, which would make it between $2 and $3 million for a $37 million facility and that schematic designs cost about 15 percent of the architectural fees, which would amount to around $475,000 for a schematic design.
''You'll  still have the rest of the architectural fees to pay for a final design you can use for a bid document,'' said Goudreau.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 15 April 2014 11:44

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Briarcrest case headed to trial

LACONIA — Following a brief hearing in Belknap County Superior Court yesterday, the dispute over the future ownership of Briarcrest Estates appears headed for trial in March.

The dispute hinges on a statute enacted in 1987 that requires owners of manufactured housing parks, upon receiving an offer to purchase their park, to "consider any offer received from the tenants or a tenants' association" and to "negotiate in good faith with the tenants concerning a potential purchase." Failure to comply carries a liability to the tenants of $10,000 or 10 percent of the purchase price, whichever is greater.

In July, the Mark and Ruth Mooney, who own the park, accepted an offer from Hometown America Corporation of Chicago to purchase Briarcrest Estates for $10 million. In accord with the law, tenants representing about 40 percent of the 241 units in the park incorporated as the Lakemont Cooperative and matched the $10 million offer.

In response, the Mooneys, represented by attorney Paul Fitzgerald, asked the Belknap County Superior Court to approve the sale of the park to Hometown America, claiming that since a majority of tenants oppose cooperative prefer commercial ownership of the park, approving the transaction would be in keeping with the intent of the statute to safeguard the best interests of tenants. Last week a majority of tenants, represented by attorney Phil McLaughlin, filed a petition with the court opposing the sale of the park to the cooperative along with a motion to intervene in the litigation on behalf of the Mooneys.

The Lakemont Cooperative, represented by attorney Robert Shepherd, asked the court to dismiss the Mooneys' petition, arguing that as the owners of the park they were in no position to represent the interests of its residents. Moreover, the cooperative reminded the court that the law does not prescribe that it include a specific number, let alone the majority, of tenants to make an offer and pursue the transaction.

In objecting to the cooperative's petition to dismiss, Fitzgerald argued that the term "tenants" and "tenants association," which are nowhere defined, are ambiguous, but can only reasonably taken to refer to a majority of the tenants. Consequently, he concludes that the Mooneys "owe(s) conflicting duties of good faith" to both the cooperative and the majority and could face a liability of $1 million for failing to bargain in good faith with either.

Fitzgerald asked the court to resolve the ambiguity of the statute and in the meantime to deny the cooperative's motion to dismiss the case along with its requests to order that the law is not ambiguous and the cooperative does not require a majority. And finally to refrain from ordering the Mooneys to negotiate with the cooperative until the case resolved.

When the parties appeared before Justice James D. O'Neill, III yesterday Shepherd insisted that the law is not at all ambiguous and that Fitzgerald, by reading tenants to mean majority, was seeking to add words to it that amounted to "a distortion of the plain meaning of the statute." He said that since the majority of tenants have not tendered an offer for the park, there was nothing to negotiate with them. By tenants, he said the statute refers to "the tenants who made the offer."

Speaking for the majority of tenants, McLaughlin told the court he was familiar with the legislative history of the statute, which rested on the premise that given the opportunity, a majority of tenants would choose to purchase their parks. Consequently, the statute does not contemplate the circumstances that have arisen at Briarcrest Estates. He offered the court a "hypothetical," wondering how the statute would apply if the majority opposed to cooperative ownership incorporated as a tenants association, offered to acquire the park on terms identical to those proposed by Hometown America and assigned its right to purchase to the commercial entity.

After listening to the arguments presented by all three parties, O'Neill granted the motion of the majority of tenants to intervene and ordered the case to trial on March 22.

Last Updated on Thursday, 21 November 2013 02:16

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Jury quickly declares Eric Grant not guilty

LACONIA — After about 30 minutes of deliberation, a Belknap County Superior Court jury has found country band leader Eric Grant innocent of sexually assaulting his former niece when she was 10.

Grant, the lead singer and namesake of the Eric Grant Band, hugged his attorney Emily McLaughlin as they both fought back tears when the foreman read the verdict.

About 14 of his family and friends, who had been fixtures during the five days of testimony, stifled their jubilation while in the courtroom, many weeping and hugging each other as the verdict was read.

The trial, which began at 10 a.m. on September 12, lasted five days. Closing arguments were yesterday morning and the jury began its deliberations at 11:40 a.m. At noon, they broke for lunch, and they announced they had reached a verdict by 1:05.

After meeting in a private room with his supporters and family, Grant and McLaughlin sat down and spoke with reporters.

He said that since the first day he heard he had been accused and indicted he has always believed in telling the truth. "My mindset was that the truth will set me free," Grant said.

Grant had been accused of digitally raping his former niece when she was 10 and was with her family at a New Year's Eve party in 2006 at Grant's house. Grant's ex-wife is the girl's mother's sister. The girl made her allegations in April of 2012 during a period of her life when she was seeing a therapist.

The girl, now 17, testified that Grant put his hand in her pajamas and violated her with a finger for "a couple of minutes" while the two sat in a room crowded with relatives. The prosecution produced no witness who took note of the alleged attack although one testified he saw Grant appear to give the girl a "wedgie" at one point during the party.

There was testimony that the girl's attitude toward Grant, her "favorite uncle", and her general behavior began to change after the date of the party.

When asked after the verdict where he goes from here, Grant said he would "get back to basics. . . focus on the things most important to me, the people I love."

He said he has many exciting things in his future, his music, and plans with many of his family and friends that can now become a reality.

"It was an awful feeling for me every day and, (especially) the past couple of weeks to think this could be the end," he said.

"Every time I put my kids on the bus I had to think I may not see them until high school," Grant said, his eyes welling again with tears.

Before Grant spoke, McLaughlin said that since the case first became public, he had endured a lot of media scrutiny. She said he was a talented, well-known musician who fought long and hard with the decision he made not to speak publicly or to the media until his case was resolved.

"He decided not to enter the discourse" McLaughlin said. "He said he wanted a jury trial."

Since the indictment in December of 2012, Grant made one statement — through McLaughlin within days of the indictment — asserting his innocence and saying he would fight the charge.

"Since that day," said McLaughlin yesterday, "We actively, straight-forwardly prepared for trial."

"It's very clear that Judge (James) O'Neill gave us a fair trial and that's all that we asked for," she said. "All he (Grant) kept saying is 'all I want is a fair trial.'"

Grant expressed his gratitude to O'Neill and the jury for taking the time and having the patience to listen to the testimony and to allow him to tell his story. He testified on his own behalf Tuesday afternoon and was the defense's only witness.

When asked about his feelings toward the people, including the girl, who made the allegations, Grant said he's "a guy with a big heart" and while he's still upset that he was put through the time he's described in court as the "darkest year of my life," he said he bears no ill will.

Last Updated on Thursday, 21 November 2013 02:31

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Boothby seriously considering run for Executive Council

MEREDITH — Christopher Boothby, a former Belknap County Commissioner, said yesterday that, "I am giving serious consideration to running for the Executive Council in District 1." The seat fell open with passing of Ray Burton of Bath who held it for 35 of the past 37 years.

Boothby, a Republican from Meredith, served as an intern with Burton while attending graduate school at the University of New Hampshire. "Ray was a fixture in our personal lives and public lives for more than 30 years," he said yesterday. "His death was such hard news to receive."

Burton, he continued, "provided the district with a level of public service its people have come to expect and should expect in the future."

For the past 15 years Boothby and his wife Maren have owned and operated Boothby Therapy Services, a Laconia firm that provide occupational and speech therapy services to school districts. During the same period he also worked at LRGHealthcare, as director of outpatient services as well as in philanthropy and community affairs.

Boothby served as a Belknap County Commissioner for 12 years and during his tenure was twice president of the New Hampshire Association of Counties. While out o the country for the past several weeks, he said he received calls encouraging him to seek to succeed Burton, including from those he described as "members of Ray's extended public family. If we were to decide to run," he remarked, "we would do so with great enthusiasm." Growing and strengthening the regional economy, he called the major challenge facing the state. "As someone with a business background who has built and operated a successful business, I believe I would bring the necessary skills to that job," he said.

The filing period for the special election will be on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday — November 25, 26 and 27 — of next week and Monday, December 2 of the week after. If only one candidate from each party files for election, the general election will be held on January 11. If two or more candidates from each party file, a primary election will be held on January 11 and the general election on March 11, town meeting day in New Hampshire.

District 1 includes about two-thirds of the land area of the state, from the Connecticut Lakes near the Canadian border down I-93 as far south as Tilton. It includes all of the townships and cities in Coos and Grafton counties plus 41 other towns and cities in Strafford, Belknap, Merrimack and Sullivan counties.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 20 November 2013 12:51

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