School district has its truck back; man who stole it to serve year in county jail

LACONIA — The School District has its plow truck back and the man who stole it from the Huot Center at the High School and crashed it near Mile Hill in Belmont is behind bars.

Dennis Lefebvre, 34, whose last official address was in Florida, pleaded guilty in the Belknap County Superior Court to one count of burglary for breaking into the High School on August 14 and one count of receiving stolen property after being arrested by a Belmont Police officer.

A charge of driving while intoxicated is still pending before the 4th Circuit Court, Laconia Division.

Lefebvre was sentenced to 12 months in the Belknap County House of Corrections, all of which will be served, and 31/2 to 7 years in the N.H. State Prison, all of which was suspended.

Because of Lefebvre's actions, the School District has been without its only pickup — a 2012 F-350 — since August because it had been impounded as evidence.

School Administrator Ed Emond, who was at yesterday's sentencing, said the truck is used for plowing, salting and sanding as well as general maintenance of school properties.

The district had filed a motion to return the property about three weeks ago but Judge James O'Neill denied it temporarily and scheduled a hearing for yesterday.

With the criminal case resolved, the Belknap County Attorney's Office and Lefebvre's defense attorney have no further need for the truck.

O'Neill ordered it be released immediately.

According to Belmont Police reports, Lefebvre drove the truck off the road while on Mile Hill Road, causing a resident to file a report with police who arrested him a short time later.

Emond said it appears there is some minor damage to the truck and it will have to be fixed before it can be used.

As part of Lefebvre's sentence, he is ordered to pay restitution to the Laconia School District for the as yet undetermined amount of damage. Once the school district has it fixed, Lefebvre can ask for a hearing about the costs associated with that.

Lefebvre was also ordered to pay the school district $170 for damage he caused during the course of the burglary. He is also ordered not to enter the property of the Laconia School District.

During the sentencing, Lefebvre apologized to the School District and said he took full responsibility for what he'd done.

A second man, Tyler Marchand, has also been indicted for one count of burglary. At the time of Lefebvre arrest, Marchand was a passenger in the stolen pick-up truck. He told police that he was walking down Union Avenue when Lefebvre picked him up.

At yesterday's offer of proof, Deputy County Attorney Adam Wood said the video tape recovered from the school shows two men inside the high school but the tape was inconclusive as to who was driving the truck when it left the premises.

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Taradif sues council over mill conversations

LACONIA — Tom Tardif has filed suit against the City Council, charging that in October the council twice met privately with trustees of the Belknap Mill Society in violation of the Right-to-Law.

In his petition to the court Tardif notes that in November, when Mayor Ed Engler referred to the private meetings, his remarks were reported by The Daily Sun, prompting him to request records of the meetings. City Manager Scott Myers informed him that the council voted to seal the minutes of the meetings. Tardif alleges that decisions were taken but not recorded at both meetings.

Tardif has asked the court to review the minutes of both meetings to determine if the matters discussed represent exceptions to the Right-to-Know Law as the council claims, order the disclosure of minutes that fail to qualify as exceptions and require the councilors, city manager and city clerk to undergo remedial training in the administration of the Right-to-Know Law.

In a private e-mail to Tardif, which he attached to his petition, Engler explained that both non-public meetings were held to consider "the acquisition, sale or lease of real property," one of subjects the Right-to-Know Law permits to be discussed in a non-public session. He added that "the reason was solid: at both meetings we discussed the possibility of the city purchasing the mill from the society. Specific dollar amounts were mentioned."

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Historic preservation easement granted to state would constrain new owner of Belknap Mill

LACONIA — As the Belknap Mill Society seeks a new owner for the historic building its efforts will be constrained, perhaps severely, by a Term Historic Preservation Easement it granted to the state in 2004 in the course of securing a grant from the Land and Community Heritage Investment Program.

In November, Christine Santaniello, president of the society, which acquired the mill in 1974, announced that it no longer has the financial capacity to own and maintain the building. The board of trustees offered the building to the city for an undisclosed price, on the understanding that under municipal ownership it would remain open to both the public and the society. Without expressly declining or accepting the offer to purchase the building, the majority of the City Council asked the trustees to court a private purchaser.

However, the restrictions and obligations the easement places on the owner of the mill, especially a prohibition against operating it for private profit, represent strong disincentives for any private party other than a philanthropist to invest in the property.

The easement, granted for a term of 50 years, is intended "to ensure that the architectural, historical, and cultural features" of the mill are sustained and "to prevent any use or change of the property" that would "impair or interfere" with this purpose. The easement provides that if the society divests itself of all or part of the building, its "restrictions, stipulations, and covenants" shall bind the new owner.

The easement obliges the owner of the mill to maintain it in "the same or better condition and state of repair" as that on the date of the easement and prescribes that work shall be undertaken in accord with standards specified for historic buildings by the United States Secretary of the Interior. An "annual stewardship report," detailing all work on the both the exterior and interior" of the building must be submitted to the LCHIP.

The owner must make both the first floor, which in 2004 housed the gallery, museum and gift shop, and the meeting room on the third floor "accessible to the public during regular operating hours." In other words, the easement appears to designate these two floors as public space, which could be hired for meetings and events, but not leased for extended periods. Likewise, the uses of the mill as a gallery, museum, gift shop and rented offices, cannot be changed unless the Department of Cultural Resources finds that the proposed uses do not "impair the preservation values" of the building and do not conflict with the purposes of the easement.

The easement provides that no alterations to the dimensions or exterior of the building, including any changes to the materials or finishes, can be undertaken with the express approval of the Department of Cultural Resources. Moreover, the profile of the building cannot be obscured by plantings, utility lines or equipment like satellite dishes. Signage is explicitly restricted to a nine-by-eleven inch plaque stating the significance of the building and the easement, a sign bearing the address, and temporary signs advertising a special event or space for rent. The owner is bound to insure the building for its "full replacement value."

If necessary, the terms of the easement may be amended by the mutual consent of the Belknap Mill Society, Department of Cultural Resources and Land and Community Heritage Authority. However, amendments must be consistent with the purpose of the original easement and not affect its duration. Above all, the easement cannot be amended to "permit any private inurement to any person or entity," which ensures that the building cannot be operated for private profit.

Meanwhile, when the City Council hosted a public meeting on the future of the mill earlier this week, George Roberts of Gilmanton, a former president of the Belknap Mill Society, voiced concern that the trustees approached city officials without convening a meeting of the members of the society to inform them of the situation. Later Councilor Bob Hamel (Ward 5) suggested the defer further discussion of the issue until the trustees met with their membership.

Mayor Ed Engler said yesterday that the council will return to the issue at some future date, "probably at first in a non-public session, since we will be discussing the transfer of real estate and talking about specific figures." Noting that selling the property to the city is the first option of the trustees, he explained "we must tell them whether or not that is going to happen in a relatively timely manner so they can move on." For the moment, Engler said that the council would await the next step taken by the trustees, who he expects will be meeting this week.

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