Doubling the cost

Burying Lakeside Avenue utilities price estimate increases by $474,684


LACONIA — With work already underway, city officials learned last month that the cost of burying the overhead utilities along Lakeside Avenue, the centerpiece of $2.6 million project to improve and enhance The Weirs, could be more than twice what was estimated when the City Council approved and funded the project.

City Manager Scott Myers assured the council this week that Director of Public Works Wes Anderson is making every effort to reduce the amount of the projected overrun. Likewise, Mayor Ed Engler said that "We're not accepting this an inevitability." But, since the financing is in place and the work is well underway, any significant increase in the costs will pose questions about the funding and perhaps the scope of the project.

Originally, Eversource estimated the cost of designing and constructing the project at $311,316. However, after putting the work out to bid to subcontractors, Eversource informed the city that the cost would not exceed $786,000, a difference of $474,684.

"We're shocked that Eversource could give us an estimate well over 100 percent of their estimate on which we based our decision to proceed with the project," said Engler. Moreover, he noted that on the strength of the original estimate the council first approved burying the utilities from Endicott Street to Tower Street and subsequently to extend the project another block from Tower Street to Foster Avenue. Furthermore, Engler said that work is already well underway. The conduit was laid last year and Eversource has pulled 75 percent of its cable while Metrocast and Fairmont began pulling their cables in February.

Likewise, financing for the project is in place. The city borrowed $1 million for 20 years to fund the so-called "base project," which consists of reconstructing Lakeside Avenue, including its drainage system. The principal and interest payments on this borrowing will be drawn from the general fund.

Another $1.6 million was borrowed for 20 years to fund the cost of burying the overhead utilities, installing new street lighting, and building new sidewalks and crosswalks. The Weirs Tax Increment Financing (TIF) District will service this debt. Tax increment financing allows municipalities to define TIF districts, then apply a portion of the future tax revenues accruing from the increase in assessed value generated by the construction, expansion or renovation of property in the district to either provide funds or service borrowings for public improvements within it.

The financing arrangement provides for the Weirs TIF to apply 80 percent of its annual revenue to servicing the debt, which in 2018 will amount to about $108,000. However, since the TIF was recently established and has a current balance of only $30,000, the city will fund the difference for four for five years or until the TIF has sufficient funds not only to service the debt but also to begin reimbursing the city.

Engler suggested the city could meet the cost of an overrun by either drawing from its undesignated fund balance or borrowing. In either case, the city would expect to recover its funds from Weirs TIF, which could affect its operations in the long-term. Although the TIF advisory board was reluctant to apply more than 80 percent of its revenue to this project, the mayor said that in the circumstances "the 80 percent may be on the table."

Alternatively, Engler said that a cost overrun could be offset by reducing the cost of other elements of the project. For example, the concrete sidewalks could be replaced with asphalt sidewalks or less expensive street lights could be installed. "Should we cut corners to pay for burying the utilities?" he asked.

Gale School advocates chafe at delays in moving building

03 02 Gale School update

In 2016, after a ballot vote, 128 people at the Shaker Regional School District meeting voted to save the Gale School while 104 voted to tear it down. Now, advocates for moving and reusing the building are growing impatient, waiting for the school board to take action. (David Carkhuff/Laconia Daily Sun)



BELMONT — Advocates for moving and saving the 1894 Gale School want answers.
Nearly a year after voters approved an agreement to give the historic building a new home, a nonprofit group is waiting on the Shaker Regional School Board to fulfill their end of the bargain.
"Without the ownership of the building, we can't do anything," said Diane Marden, representing the Save Our Gale School Committee.
"They know we're supposed to be taking over this building," Marden said in an interview Wednesday, wondering why it's taking so long for the School Board to hand over the deed.
"The taxpayers voted on that last year. And they haven't contacted us. We handed over everything at the deliberative session but we haven't heard a thing," she said.
In 2016, after a ballot vote, 128 people at the Shaker Regional School District meeting voted to save the building while 104 voted to tear it down. As a compromise, voters directed the Shaker Regional School District to either sell for a nominal fee or donate the Gale School to the Save Our Gale School Committee, on the condition that the group acquire a federal nonprofit 501(cX3) status before voting day in 2017. Committee members note that they have secured that status.
Voters also directed the school district to provide a lot at the corner of Concord Street and Memorial Drive to the committee as a future home for the historic school building.
Woody Fogg of Belmont, who is helping the committee, came up with the final wording of last year's amended Article 8. The reworded article included donating the building to the Save Our Gale School Committee, supplying the corner lot at the corner and setting aside $71,000 that the district budgeted to tear it down and instead using that money to help pay for the move.
"It's a unique architectural building. I call it a gem," Fogg said.
"It seems the right thing to do to move it somewhere, get it out of the school district's way, and put it to a good use," he said.
In the school district's existing 2012-2017 strategic plan, facilities-related goals and recommendations include a goal to improve the traffic flow at Belmont Middle School "by moving or removing the historic Gale School to free up space for a bus loop and additional parking." This effort remains in the planning stage, according to district staff, and this goal is under review with the rest of the planning document.
The Shaker Regional School District is hosting a strategic planning workshop on March 10-11, and district officials hope the public will attend to brush up the district's planning document and update its goals. (To participate, the public can RSVP to register for one or both days, by Wednesday, March 8, to Alicia Sperazzo at (603) 267-9223 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)
What will happen to the Gale School remains to be seen.
Sean Embree, chairman of the Shaker Regional School Board, responded to an email inquiry Wednesday by reporting, "Your timing is slightly early in that we're in the process of trying to schedule a meeting with our attorney to help guide us on some options. We'll know more after the meeting with him which will be sometime this month, possibly on the 14th."
No action regarding the Gale School was taken at this year's deliberative session of School District Meeting, the first such session to be held in Belmont under the newly implemented SB2 format.
At that session on Wednesday, Feb. 8, Embree told Fogg that the board decided not to do anything with the Gale School because it was the first year of SB2, but Embree said the issue was likely to come up again, according to minutes of the meeting. Later, when Gale School advocates pressed for why no money was set aside in the proposed budget for the move, Embree promised to add the issue to a future agenda. Advocates for the building argued that the 2016 vote took care of changing ownership, but school district officials were uncertain about the need for another public vote, according to meeting records.
On Tuesday, Feb. 14, School Board member Heidi Chaney said she would like to have the Gale School added to a future agenda. Also at that meeting, in a discussion about the deliberative session, board members said they would like to meet and talk about the Gale School.
Marden said the delay is irksome.
"There are no restrictions on the deed that would prevent them from giving us the school. The school (board) is dragging its feet," she said. "We have met all of the School Board's requirements."
Fogg noted that a structural engineer a few years ago found the building to be in sound condition.
"In 2016, I listened to the discussion, and it seemed like the school district or the school board needed a way out, they needed some way of getting that school off their property because it's in their way. I understand that. They didn't really want to tear it down but didn't know what else to do," Fogg said.
"The amendment passed, then at this year's School District Meeting I hadn't seen anything in the school district budget about spending that $71,000 to move the building, so I asked the question, 'What's going on?' And they said they needed authorization to do that. We came back and said, 'You have it. You had it last year. That was authorization.'"
Marden said, "There appears to be no problems whatsoever. They should be acting on this."
Part of the frustration stems from the decades of effort applied toward saving the building.
"The School Board has kept us at bay all these years," Marden said.
The 1894 Gale School was built by Cyris Norris and named after Napolian Gale, who left $10,000 to the town of Belmont (formerly Upper Gilmanton) to build a school building, Marden reports on a website dedicated to the school's preservation (
Gale himself was born in 1815 at his father's farm on Mile Hill Road, and he was for years prominent in banking circles in Laconia, the website notes. The remainder of Gale's estate was left to the city of Laconia and used to build and pay for the Gale Memorial Library, the history reports. Gale represented Belmont residents in the State Legislature during 1867 and 1868, the history notes.
The school closed in 1985. Supporters of saving the Gale School formed the Save Our 1894 Gale School Committee, and they now have a mover and a list of supporters to help relocate it.
"We're confident we can move it," Marden said.
Marden said she is passionate about Belmont and has "very deep roots in this town."
Marden said she was instrumental in establishing the Belmont Fire Department's clerical duties, her grandfather Harold Reed was road agent and also a volunteer fire chief, and her great-great-grandfather, Howard Reed, was the town's first volunteer fire chief.
Moving the school building would require creation of a temporary road, removal of steps near the middle school and permission from an abutter to clear part of an embankment.
Last year, the committee estimated that phase one of moving the school building would cost $237,850, although Marden cautioned that many services could be donated to lower this estimate.
"Unfortunately, the school just hasn't made the decision," she said.
Fogg said, "I'm a believer that you can do things when people work together. Saving that school is worth doing."

No regrets

03-02 Patrick Keefer waterski

Patrick Keefer, who grew up in Holderness, was a Div. I water skiier in Florida in college. (Courtesy photo)

Barefoot Internet sensation says don't copy stunt


LACONIA — Patrick Keefer, whose barefoot water skiing stunt has become an Internet sensation, wants people to know he did not take the eye-popping act lightly and does not recommend it for others.

A snowmobile pulled him across the open water of the Weirs Channel on Saturday. It was caught on video that went viral, surprising many who didn't know a machine like that could skim across the surface or that it could be used to pull a water skier.

Keefer, 32, and John Vachon, 28, both of Meredith, were accused of disorderly conduct and will likely be fined about $500 each. Vachon also faces a charge that he broke a law against driving a snowmobile on water. A page has already raised $1,000 toward fines.

Keefer is an accomplished water skier, snow skier and mountain climber, and said he doesn't consider himself a daredevil.

“I don't regret it at all,” he said. “I do things that I get excited about and enjoy like any other person that likes to go snow skiing or play golf.”

He admits that it was bad timing to do his stunt Saturday, just two weeks after three people died when their snowmobiles broke through thin ice on Lake Winnipesaukee.

Certain snowmobiles can be driven across open water if they first build up speed on ice and maintain that speed, but much can quickly go wrong and authorities strongly discourage the practice, which has resulted in death.

Keefer was in a dry suit and life jacket and had ice picks around his neck. The snowmobile driver had on a wet suit and a life jacket. There was a support team ready to recover Keefer after the ride ended or to intervene in case of emergency.

He said the stunt was not done for Internet consumption, but when others released cell phone video of his ride, he told his brother to go ahead and release video they shot.

Keefer emerged from the act uncomfortable but unscathed. His feet were so cold he couldn't immediately walk, so he dropped into the water and swam to shore after the snowmobile returned to the ice.

Keefer, who grew up in Holderness and graduated from high school in Plymouth, was a Division I water skier at Florida Southern College, skis the very steep backcountry terrain of Tuckerman Ravine on Mount Washington and has climbed all the peaks in New Hampshire that are 4,000 feet or higher. He has participated in three self-led summit attempts on 20,310-foot Mount McKinley in Alaska.

He said he also hiked the entire length of the Appalachian Trail in 100 days.

He said these activities helped build his confidence. The Weirs Channel stunt wasn't as dangerous as some of his other activities, he said.

“Honestly, I feel I take bigger risks climbing frozen waterfalls and ice-covered cliffs here in New Hampshire,” said Keefer, who has a wife and a 9-month-old son, and works as a carpenter.

“I do like to push the limits, but I am very confident in what I'm doing.”

 03-02 Patrick Keefer Mt. Rainier560

In 2008, Patrick Keefer hiked Mount Rainier. He said he takes bigger risks climbing icy mountains than he did skiing barefoot behind a snowmobile in the Weirs Channel Saturday. (Courtesy photo)