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Forrester eyes State School site for rehab center


CONCORD — The Senate Finance Committee yesterday endorsed a proposal by state Sen. Jeanie Forrester (R-Meredith), who chairs the panel, to lease the property on North Main Street that formerly housed the Laconia State School and Lakes Region Facility (prison) to a private party for use as a substance abuse treatment and recovery facility.

Cast as an amendment to House Bill 1695, the proposal carried the committee by a five-to-one vote, with state Sen. Andrew Hosmer (D-Laconia) the lone dissenter. The Senate will vote on the amended bill when it meets next week.

Forrester's proposal would appear to foreclose efforts by the city of Laconia to acquire the property, which it has pursued since 2011. However, the senator insisted yesterday that "My intent is not to hurt Laconia." She stressed "I've been trying to get the property back to Laconia."

Forrester, who followed the city's interest in the property for some time, said she was not aware that it was still contemplating acquiring the tract until Laconia Mayor Ed Engler spoke to the committee yesterday. "From our perspective," she said, "nothing was happening with the property."

The proposal would direct commissioners of the Department of Health and Human Services and Department Administrative Services "to develop and solicit a request for proposals for the private use of the Lakes Region Facility property in Laconia to provide comprehensive substance abuse treatment and recovery programs." The amendment provided that the request for proposals could include but not be limited to "long term lease purchase agreements, ground lease arrangements, or any other arrangements" considered viable.

Forrester's proposal would repeal the authorization to sell property included in the 2016-2017 state budget budget. The companion bill to the budget, directed the Department of Administrative Services to sell the property and the budget booked $2 million in revenue from the proceeds of the transaction. The sale would be subject to the requirements of RSA 4:40, the statute governing the sale or lease of state property, which stipulates that it must be first be offered to the municipality or county where it is located, but the sale would require the approval of only the governor and Executive Council.

Engler, who testified at the hearing in Concord, said that he told the Senate Finance Committee he was "puzzled" by the proposal, which he said appears to be at cross purposes with what the Legislature had done last year.

Engler said he told the senators that in December he and City Manager Scott Myers met with Michael Connor, deputy commissioner of the Department of Administrative Services, who explained that the department would hire a broker and put the property on the open market for six months. The highest and best offer for the property would be taken as its market value and it would be offered to the city at that price. The city would have at least 30 days to match the offer.

Without speaking either for or against the amendment, he said he told the committee he did not understand it. He asked if the proposal applied to all or part of the property, but got no explanation. He said that when senators Chuck Morse (R-Salem), the president of the Senate, and Lou D'Alessandro (D-Manchester) suggested using the property for a treatment and recovery facility would benefit both the city and the state, he indicated that he was not convinced.

Engler said Alex Ray, owner and founder of the Common Man Family of Restaurants, spoke in support of the proposal before the Senate Finance Committee, demonstrating he was familiar with the property as well as committed to addressing the crisis of substance abuse.

Ray, who partnered with Rusty McLear of Hampshire Hospitality Holdings in developing the Hooksett Welcome Center, in which Forrester said her husband Keith invested, developed Webster Place Recovery Center in Franklin. Forrester said that Ray has approached Harbor Homes of Nashua, a nonprofit corporation providing housing, primary and behavioral health care and supportive services to the poor, homeless and disabled about the Laconia property.

Hosmer said that he will do what he can to scuttle the proposal. He said that the state has contaminated and abandoned the property, which has significant potential value to the city. He said the city should have the opportunity to acquire and redevelop the site. Failing that, he said that will offer an amendment to ensure that if the state retains ownership of the property, the city will play a role in its development.

Forrester said that she would support an amendment affording the city some authority over the development of the property.

The property consists of slightly less than 200 acres bounded by North Main Street to the east, Meredith Center Road and Eastman Road to the north and Ahern State Park to the west and south and divided roughly in half by Right Way Path. Among the 26 buildings on the site, an appraisal commissioned by the state found less than a handful salvageable.

Moreover, an initial environmental assessment of the site by Credere LLC of Westbrook, Maine, in 2010 indicated that there were typical but significant environmental concerns, most of them confined to the 75 acres housing most of the buildings. As the party responsible for the environmental contamination the state cannot qualify for federal funding to address it.

The state first sought to sell the property in 2011, offering it to the city for $10 million. However, soon afterward, two appraisals, one by the state and another by the city, found it was worth about a fifth that much. In April 2012, the Laconia City Council offered to purchase the property, together with the Robbie Mills Sports Complex and an abutting 10.2-acre parcel for $2.16 million. The state did not respond to the offer. The property has been on the open market ever since without fetching a single offer.

Meanwhile, the state spends approximately $330,000 annually to maintain and police the property, apart from the cost of any urgent repairs like the replacement of a failing roof.

Pushed over the financial edge - Laconia couple struggle when son needs surgery

LACONIA — A couple whose 9-month old son, Skye, underwent skull surgery in March that allows his brain room to grow and have had to use unpaid medical leave in order to care for him following the surgery find themselves struggling to pay their bills and rent.
Kristen Bibeault and her fiance Tom Malo are mental health care providers who work at the New Hampshire Hospital in Concord, and while both have recently returned to work, they still face a month without a paycheck while their bills continue to increase.
"We stayed home from work to help him recover, and because of his numerous followup appointments. We stayed out of work due to the fact that we had no one who we trusted other than ourselves to care for him, as he healed," said Bibeault, adding that the experience of recent months due to their son's condition has been incredibly difficult for both of them.
Skye, who was born last August, was diagnosed last fall with right coronal craniosynostosis, a birth defect in which one of the joints between the bones of the baby's skull closes prematurely before the brain is fully formed. It requires surgery to correct.
Early photos of Skye that the couple have show a slight bulge over his left eye, with the right eye appearing slightly larger than the left.
The couple had originally scheduled surgery with Dartmouth-Hitchcock for early February, but Malo was denied a request for time off from the State Hospital because he wasn't eligible for leave until Feb. 22, the first-year anniversary of his employment there.
Bibeault said that since both wanted to be present for the surgery, they postponed it until the next available date, which turned out to be March 17.
"The sutures in his head had fused and they had to cut his head open from ear to ear so that his brain would have room to grow," said Malo.
Bibeault said she had used most of her medical leave after Skye was born and that the couple faced additional strains after the operation. "He has had multiple appointments, one after another, including regularly physical exams. He has physical therapy for his Torticallis (weak muscles in his neck which have caused his head to tilt). Skye will also be receiving eye testing to make sure the functioning of his eyes have not been disturbed, throughout his conditions.
The couple said health insurance has covered a lot of the $15,000 in medical expenses, but the bills continue to grow and they have been unable to work regularly because of the demands of getting him to his appointments and providing care for him on a daily basis. Malo works the day shift at the hospital while Bibeault works the second shift.
"We both work with kids ranging from ages 3 to 18. Tom and I have been in this line of work for over 10 years," said Bibeault, who has been at New Hampshire Hospital for two years.
Malo said other states have different standards on medical leave and a program which makes it easier for people to qualify for it and he wishes that the state hospital had been more flexible so that the operation could have taken place sooner. He said Gov. Maggie Hassan expressed support for them after The Concord Monitor ran a story in January about their plight.
He said that the couple have been threatened by EverSource with having their power shut off because their bill hasn't been paid, adding to the pressure thy have felt in recent months.
Bibeault said the couple's immediate goal is to raise $4,000 in order to pay their bills, and that if they reach their goal they intend to donate $500 to the Children's Hospital at Dartmouth. She said her sister recommended that she set up a GoFundMe page to help pay for expenses not covered by the family's health insurance. She started the page in December and it has raised over $5,000 to help them meet some of their expenses.
"We're hoping that people will go to the page and help us meet our goal," said Bibeault.
Skye's GoFundMe page can be found online at 

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Kristen Bibeault holds her son, Skye, who underwent skull surgery in March to allow his brain room to grow. (Roger Amsden photo for the Laconia Daily Sun)

Tom Malo and Kristen Bibeault hold their son Skye, who underwent skull surgery in March to allow his brain room to grow. (Roger Amsden photo for the Laconia Daily Sun)

Gilford kidnapper agrees to serve minimum 10 years


LACONIA — A former Gilford man will serve a minimum of 10 years in prison for holding his estranged girlfriend hostage in her home for more than a day by keeping her handcuffed to a bed or shut in a closet, and threatening her with a loaded handgun.

Russell Holliday, 56, entered into a capped plea Tuesday in Belknap County Superior Court during a settlement conference with Judge Peter Fauver. A capped plea means that the state agrees to a maximum sentence in exchange for a plea bargain provided a judge agrees.

Holliday agreed to serve 3 1/2 to 7 years for one count of kidnapping, 3 ½ to 7 years for being in possession of a handgun, and to 3 to 6 years for felony-level criminal threatening. The sentences will be served consecutively, meaning when one sentence ends, the other begins.

He also agreed to serve 3 ½ to 7 years for a second kidnapping charge, which was suspended and could be imposed up to 10 years after his release date pending his good behavior.

In exchange, the state agreed to drop the charges for attempted aggravated felonious sexual assault and two Class A misdemeanor assaults.

After 26 hours of being held by Holliday, the victim managed to get the gun away from him and hid it in her boot. She later told him she wanted a cigarette, and when he agreed, she took his car and fled to the Gilford Police Department, where she sheltered in a safe room just off the lobby until officers, who were on a different call, could get back.

By negotiating the plea, the state avoids retraumatizing the victim by having her testify in open court.

Holliday is scheduled for sentencing on May 25 at 10 a.m. In the interim, he remains in the Belknap County House of Corrections on $100,000 cash bail.