Housing rental vacancy rate down to 1.2% in county

LACONIA — Vacancy rates fell while rental costs rose across the state in 2015, according to the annual residential rent cost survey released by the New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority (NHHFA) this week. Both represent the continuation of long-term trends as vacancy rates have decreased steadily since 2009 while rental costs have risen steadily since 1993.

In Belknap County the survey found that the vacancy rate fell to 1.2 percent in 2015, the lowest rate among the 10 counties and a full percentage point below the state average. The median gross rent for two bedroom units in the county remained stable at $997. However, since the median income of renter households in the county is $34,577, the median rent of a two-bedroom unit represents 34 percent of income. The survey concluded that 6 percent of two-bedroom rental units in the county are "affordable" based on the median income of renter households.

The statewide vacancy rate dropped to 2.2 percent — with only Coos County among the 10 counties reporting a rate above 4 percent — which represents the mere turnover rather than an excess inventory of units. The low vacancy rates reflect the preference for renting rather than owning reported by the New Hampshire Center for Public Policy Studies and Applied Economic Research last year. Those studies found that younger households saddled with student debt, slow income growth and poor credit ratings were deferring home ownership.

Median gross rents, which include utilities, have risen 41 percent, from $818 to $1,157 since 2001 and by nearly 10 percent in the last five years. Rents in Grafton and Coos counties have jumped 15 percent in the last five years, indicating that as people relocate to more affordable regions increased demand raises rents. Nevertheless, Coos County reports the lowest median rent and highest vacancy rate for two bedroom units in the state.

The NHHFA report finds that the household incomes of renters are not keeping pace with rising rental costs. More than half of all renters dedicate more than 30 percent of their income in rent. While the median income of renters statewide is an estimated $37,326 the median gross rent of a two-bedroom unit is $1,157, or 37 percent of the median income. .

Dean Christon, executive director of the NHHFA, said that while the slower growth and rapid aging of the population has dampened the demand for housing, the rental survey, together with the agency's study of housing needs issued last year, "suggest that there is a need for additional rental housing construction."

Trio of 2015 LHS grads will pursue music education degrees in college

by Alana Persson

LACONIA — For three recent graduates from Laconia High School, the love of music fostered during their public education in the Laconia District has blossomed in them a desire to purse music at the college level.

Leaving high school as top musicians around the state Michael O'Brien, Mitchell Bailey, and Andrew Emanuel look forward to improving their skills and pursing their love of music as music education majors for the next four years.

O'Brien began playing in band during the fourth grade on alto saxophone and immediately found that music was an essential piece of his life. Sticking with the band program through senior year, O'Brien has taken an initiative to expand his skills by taking up bass during the end of his high school career.

This fall O'Brien will be attending Benedictine College in Atchison, Kans., as a music education major. O'Brien had once thought that he was going to go into engineering but after much time considering what he would most enjoy from life and what path he was being called to choose, he decided to pursue his passion for music.

"I want to thank Father Marc (Drouin) for helping me along the way decide what I wanted to pursue, he has been a huge part of my decision," says O'Brien who is a member of the Saint Andre Bessette Parish in Laconia, where Drouin is pastor.

Being part of band in the Laconia School District helped foster O'Brien's love for music, and he thanks band and choral Director Debbie Gibson, for helping guide him as a musician.

Additionally, O'Brien has gained various life and leadership skills as a former drum major his junior and senior year, as well as band vice president. Outside of the high school band community, O'Brien spent time playing with the Lakes Region Symphony Orchestra, as a part of the The O'Brien Clan, as well as singing and playing instruments for the choir at Saint Andre Bessette Parish.

Pursuing a music degree in college will allow O'Brien to play in more advanced groups and challenge himself more than he has been able to in high school. As number one bass singer for the state, O'Brien also looks forward to taking more vocal classes and joining more choral groups. The many different styles and concentrations of music that O'Brien will be pursuing will help him to foster a future in either private or public music education, or a church music ministry.

Bailey will be attending the University of New Hampshire this fall as a music education major. When starting band in fourth grade Bailey was one of the only people to choose the trombone as his instrument of choice. When asked why he chose this instrument he stated, "Well I was told that everyone loves trombone players, so I thought that playing trombone would make me cool." Bailey has not only found that the instrument was "cool," but has grown an appreciation for the instruments ability to reflect the human voice.

Throughout his pursuit, Bailey has enjoyed the opportunities he has had playing his instrument and would encourage younger kids to choose to take the same path he did, as there aren't many people who play the trombone, so the ones that do have a real opportunity to shine. Being part of the bands in the Laconia School District allowed Bailey to expand his skills and work harder as an individual player.

Middle school laid out the foundation of music for Bailey, and was an enjoyable part of his day. High school band not only changed his perspective on music but on life, as Bailey states, "Once you hit high school you are looking more toward college, but the high school band has pushed me not to just be good in class for school but also best in other places outside of the school. Never stop challenging yourself, and learn new things to do so that you don't get into a rut."

Bailey states that he is glad that he got invested in band because it gives a sense of belonging, as it is a very binding thing, whether one likes it or not, and gives everyone something to relate to.

Outside of high school band, Bailey participates in Lakes Region Symphony Orchestra in Meredith that includes people from high school age to senior citizens. Although he states there is an age gap, he does not notice it as there is a commonality in the love of music. Band festivals were also an enjoyable experience for Bailey, as there is a band and music community formed from around the state and New England that surpasses just the Laconia High School environment. Although music is the focus of Bailey's future, his end goal is not set in stone, as he would like to teach private music lessons, or teach in a classroom most likely at the elementary school level.

Emanuel will also be attending the University of New Hampshire as a music education major, and plans on pursing a career in music education and/or music performance. His end goal is to perform and live in something a little nicer than a cardboard box. For Emanuel money is a slight factor but not to an extreme degree, but he has concluded that his happiness is not determined by the size of the house, but who he fills his house with.

Emanuel's passion for music trumps his desire for money. When asked why Emanuel decided to pursue music, he claimed that it was his experience in high school band, and assistance from Gibson who has facilitated his exposure to talented professional musicians. Emanuel wants to keep on performing, preferably in a big band, although since there are few big bands around these days he would be content with a jazz combo.

Working hard has allowed Emanuel to achieve various accolades both within the school community and the state. These distinctions include most recently the top score in the state for tenor saxophone in the Classical All-State Ensemble, and was presented the Marching Sachem Award, the Louie Armstrong Jazz Award, and the John Philips Sousa Award.

Moving forward, Emanuel most looks forward to the UNH Jazz Band, because after hearing them play they have inspired them him to work hard so that he can have an opportunity to play with them.

"It is a very difficult group to get into, and it will take much dedication and practice to earn a spot playing with them," says Emanuel.

Emanuel thanks all of his teachers in the past for instilling his love of music, these teachers include, Allison Whitham, John Cardin, Lee Ames, Dr. Jonathan Lorentz, Dr. Rik Pfenninger, Stephen Colby, and especially  Gibson.

"I would like to thank Mrs. Gibson, who was not only my teacher but also acted not a music teacher but as a surrogate mother to me by assisting me in ways that ordinary music teacher would."


CAPTION -- Andrew Emanuel, Mitchell Bailey, and Michael O'Brien. (Photo cred - Alana Persson)

Jail Planning Committee endorses 1-story pan for 'community corrections' facility

LACONIA — The Belknap County Jail Planning Committee has endorsed the idea of a one-story "community corrections: facility after learning from SMP Architecture that it feasible to place a single-story building on the county-owned land located in front of the current county jail.
SMP President Eric Palson presented a conceptual plan for the proposed facility to the committee Thursday morning which shows the existing jail and the new 64-bed correction facility sharing a "sally port" on the north side.
Public access to the corrections facility would be through a south-facing covered entry which would be reached from a parking lot located off from the current driveway to the Belknap County complex. The proposed site plan also contains a separate entry road into the county complex for service vehicles only, near Lexington Drive, which would separate public traffic from service vehicles for a better traffic flow.
Kevin Leonard of North Point Engineering said that permission from the the city of Laconia would be needed for a new driveway as it is their jurisdiction, not the state Department of Transportation, whose jurisdiction starts north of Lexington Drive. He said that the city in the past has denied access for a driveway to a church, located across North Main Street the road from the county property.
He said that the proposed new driveway has been discussed with Laconia's Public Works Department, which has been receptive to the proposal, and that the Belknap County Commission should notify the city in writing of the plan.
He also said that the county will have to develop a storm water pollution plan for the site to meet Department of Environmental Services standards for alteration of terrain.
Palson said that the preliminary square footage numbers for a one-story facility are 17,620 net and 22,906 gross, which reflects a 30 percent factor for walls, mechanicals and corridors.
When questioned by Belknap County Commission Chairman Dave DeVoy (R-Sanbornton) about the 30 percent factor, Palson said it was best to stick with it until the design had been put through the Computer Assisted Design (CAD ) process to obtain a more accurate number.
He said that Andre Klotz of Bauen Corporation in Meredith will provide cost estimates based on those figures as well as he kind of materials recommended for the project and thee mechanical system.
Project Manager Anthony Mento of SMP said that the cost of improvements to the HVAC system in the current House of Corrections will be included in the overall cost of the project, which Commissioner DeVoy has said should not exceed $7 million.
Not included in the proposed bond issue would be improvements to the old jail, which will hold 30 to 40 inmates in a higher security setting.
DeVoy said that he wants to see a prioritized list of jail renovation projects and their costs, with the thought that some of them can be accomplished by using $300,000 in funds left in the jail planning account and some of the county's $200,000 contingency account.
Ross Cunningham of Alternative Solutions Associates, Inc., a consulting firm hired by the county to develop a plan for a community corrections facility and programs, said that some contractors might be reluctant to undertake some of the proposed renovations without the county developing a comprehensive approach to renovations.
The committee will met again next Thursday at 9 a.m. at the Belknap County Complex to receive updates and fine tune the facility and site plan which is being developed.
The design project has an August 21 completion target date.