LACONIA — The troubles besetting the Belknap Mill Society began not long after the departure of longtime executive director Mary Boswell in 2006 and within five years the financial challenges facing the organization appear to have become insurmountable.
Last month Christine Santaniello, who became president of society last spring, announced that it no longer has the financial capacity to own and maintain the mill and was seeking partners in an effort to transfer ownership of the building while ensuring the society would be able to maintain its presence and educational mission.
Filings with the Internal Revenue Service reveal that the society operated more than $59,000 in the red in 2013. Santaniello has indicated that there are sufficient reserves now on hand to support operations for approximately six months. And the society has an outstanding debt of some $40,000 owed to the Belknap Economic Development Council.
Boswell, who is now the executive director of the Historical Society of Frederick County in Maryland, said that when she left the society was on a sound footing, but at the same time acknowledged that nonprofit corporations were facing ever stiffer financial challenges. Reductions in funding by federal and state governments, she said, led to increasing competition increased competition for scarce resources, which required nonprofit corporations to mount more professional and aggressive fundraising campaigns. In particular, she noted that foundations and donors came to expect nonprofit corporations to develop stable revenue streams and, while willing to contribute to capital projects, became reluctant to fund operating expenses.
After Boswell departed the society hired an office manager but not until November, 2007 was Suzanne Lee, a former fashion designer with an art gallery in Meredith, named executive director. However, after eight months she left and John Moriarty, who had served as a trustee since 2004, became acting executive director in June, 2008 and by the end of the year was appointed executive director.
Moriarty, who served until June, 2011, said that he was hesitant to discuss his tenure in detail, but, referring to a report in The Daily Sun on the financial troubles of the society, said "I don't disagree with what I have read in the newspaper." Although that report included a statement by David Stamps, who served as treasurer of the society from 2011 to 2014, that the organization has been operating at a loss for "many, many years," Moriarty said "I don't believe there were operating losses."
While the recession hastened the erosion of the society's financial condition, the society wrestled with redefining its mission, a process that ultimately sowed dissension and bred turnover among the trustees. During her brief spell, Lee envisioned the mill as the hub of visual arts arts community. She told the press that "this building should be the center of the resurgence of culture in Laconia."
Moriarty pursued and broadened this theme. The mill hosted an evening of rock 'n roll with four bands, along with other musical performances, and exhibitions of visual arts. "The mill is reasserting itself as the cultural center of the Lakes Region," he said. At the same time, Moriarty began exploring the synergies to be found in associating the mill with the Colonial Theater, the restoration of which was high on the agenda of city officials.
Some, including former trustees like Paul Morin, whose family owned the mill when it was producing hosiery, questioned this diverse programming, which they believed diluted the essential character of the mill and original mission of the society. as a landmark of the city's industrial heritage. Their misgivings were all the greater as the financial circumstances of society failed to improve but continued to weaken.
In 2011, several former trustees returned to the board in an effort to right the ship. Moriarty stepped down. A dormant membership drive was renewed. A grant writer was engaged. A development plan was prepared and a strategic plan was begun. A new logo was introduced along with a fresh tag line — "where arts and history come alive." An executive director was hired.
But, said Stamps, "it was too little, too late."
Following another reshuffling of the board of trustees, Santaniello became president and quickly convened a finance committee composed of trustees with extensive experience of financing nonprofit corporations. "We are not the problem,," she insisted. "We have taken our responsibilities very seriously."
"We can't put the fingers in the dike," Santaniello said. "Without money, there is no mission. We're not looking for a short-term fix, but a long-term solution."
The City Council has invited the public to contribute to the discussion about the future of the mill when it meets on Monday, December 8, beginning at 7 p.m.
Santaniello said that she will outline the challenges facing the mill and looks forward to hearing the response from the public.
Last Updated on Saturday, 06 December 2014 12:55
GILMANTON — The 2015-2016 School District operating budget as presented to the Budget Committee Tuesday night is up 4.35 percent from this year's figure from $9,963.327 for 2014-2015 to $10,114,706.
In his presentation to the committee, School Board Clerk Bob Carpenter said the biggest drivers of the $421,000 increase are a nearly $1,000 per pupil increase in tuition for Gilmanton students to attend Gilford High School.
That total tuition cost increased from $2,840,340 for this year to a proposed $3,071,456.
Administration officials told the Budget Committee that they have projected 168 Gilmanton students will attend Gilford High School.
In this school year there are 542 total students at Gilford High School and 163 of them or 30 percent are from Gilmanton. Next year, Superintendent John Fauci said early predictions are that there will be 521 students in Gilford High School and 168 of them, or 32.5 percent, will be from Gilmanton.
There is a proposed increase in the Special Education Budget of $110,700.
One of the biggest increases in the budget is an additional $53,000 recommended for the technology budget. According to School Board member Adam Mini, the majority of the money will be spent on the wireless infrastructure for the second phase of a technology update.
He explained that as more and more students and staff members get computer learning devices like i-Pads and the like, the demands on the wireless capacity at the school have increased, leading to more "drops" or the inability for someone to access the wireless internet without interruption.
"Our infrastructure can't support the band-width demands," Mini said.
Mini also recommended the district form a technology subcommittee that can evaluate the future district needs and plan for them. He also recommended a capital budget for technology to plan out 10-year technology cycles.
Two components of next years budget — the busing contract with First Student company and a proposed modular for the Elementary School — are still in flux, said Fauci.
As to the busing contract, Fauci said he is still negotiating with First Student but said the company is asking for the replacement of four new buses and he said because of those replacement costs, the costs to the district could increase from $469,253 in this year to $519,786 in 2015-16.
Fauci said the board should have more information for the Budget Committee by the new year.
For the second year in a row, the School District will ask the voters to approve a modular addition to the elementary school.
Fauci said the big difference between next year's request and the request that was defeated at the 2014 Annual Town Meeting is the modular unit comes at the recommendation of a Space Needs Committee convened solely for the purpose of evaluating the school.
Budget Committee member Stan Bean, who served as the chair of the committee, said yesterday that the it was comprised of two School Board members, two school administrators, two members of the Budget Committee, two parents, two teachers, a now-retired paraprofessional aid, and a member of the Planning Board.
He said there is a unanimous consensus, albeit reluctant, that the school is crowded and something needs to be done.
He said the approximate total cost of a modular unit is about $250,000 which is much more expensive than a "bricks and mortar" permanent expansion of the school.
Bean noted that the Gilmanton School was built in 1997 and was designed to meet the needs of a maximum of 400 students using standards and building requirements acceptable in the mid 1990s.
He said not only have the standards changed in the past 17 years, but the number of students now exceeds 400.
At last check, enrollment was at 408 students.
Bean said that for some reason and at this point in time, Gilmanton and Alton are bucking the state trend toward declining school enrollment numbers. He also said that in the long run, the trend toward declining enrollments will likely happen in Gilmanton as in the rest of the state, so he said a five-year temporary solution is the committee's recommendation.
Fauci told the Budget Committee members that he is still working on a final cost for a modular unit and the $250,000 is the figure used last year. Bean said he feels its still a fairly accurate estimate.
Last Updated on Saturday, 06 December 2014 01:29
LACONIA — The Laconia School Board learned Tuesday night that a Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) program being implemented at Laconia High School and Laconia Middle School is starting to produce good results.
Described as an evidence-based, data-driven is in place in more than 19,000 schools across the country.
Dave Bartlett, assistant principal at Laconia High School, said PBIS is ''starting to change behavior at the school'' by reducing the number of discipline incidents and Jim Corkum, assistant principal at the Middle School, said the program is helping the school create a consistent framework in handling discipline issues.
Corkum said that PBIS provides a three-tiered, school-wide discipline system and that the team of teachers working on the universal tier level are having monthly meetings with consultant Kathy Francouer of Somersworth, who is helping them develop a program which stresses targeted and individualized interventions and supports to improve the school climate for all students.
The universal tier covers about 80 percent of students who have few discipline issues. A second tier, estimated at 15 percent of students, are targeted in small groups, while the third tier, about 5 percent of students, require highly individualized programs according to Corkum.
He said that the premise of PBIS is that continual teaching, combined with acknowledgement or feedback of positive student behavior, will reduce discipline incidents and promote a climate of greater productivity, safety and learning.
Bartlett said that the high school utilizes a variety of approaches, including a student support room and an academic study team, which enables students falling behind in subjects to get assistance geared toward their needs, a child study team which meets every week and structured referral process when it comes to disciplinary problems.
He said that currently eight to 10 students who are having difficulty in Algebra I are working with an academic study team and have the option of continuing to work with that team or, once they have made sufficient progress, going back to their original class.
The high school also has a mental health counselor who can work with students who have many disciplinary referrals and also meet with their parents, if necessary, said Bartlett.
Board member Mike Persson asked about parental contact and was told by Bartlett that parents are contacted if a discipline issue results in a consequence for a student. Persson said that in many cases a student's behavior reflects their home life and that social services may have to become involved.
Bartlett said that it is standard procedure for a teacher who has disciplined a student to call the parent at home to explain the incident.
The School District is looking to expand the program to the city's three elementary schools in the future and is currently advertising for a coordinator's position for that part of the program, which will be implemented over the next five years.
Last Updated on Saturday, 06 December 2014 01:20
LACONIA — REM Real Estate, LLC purchased St. Helena Mission Church at the Weirs from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Manchester in a transaction that closed yesterday.
The church, which has been on the market for about a year, sold for $185,000, well below the listed price of $349,000. Proceeds from the sale will be applied to the operating fund of St. Andre Bessette Parish in Laconia.
Peter Morrissette of Gilford, one of the partners of REM Real Estate, LLC said that there are no specific plans for the property, but the partners intend to explore the potential for the residential development of the property. He said that the zoning ordinance would all for six single family homes or 20 condominium units to be built on the 3.38-acre lot. Any development and construction on the site will be undertaken by N.W. Morrissette & Sons, whose president is Kevin Morrissette, a well known and respected local builder.
The church on Endicott Street South (Rte. 11-B) was constructed as a mission church of Our Lady of the Lakes Parish in Lakeport on land donated for the purpose by Ralph and Helene Poudrier, the owners of The Weirs Hotel, and dedicated in July, 1955. In the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s mass was held at St. Helena four or five times in the course of a weekend as vacationing families and seasonal residents filled its pews. In those days, Reverend Marc Drouin said, there were between seven and nine priests spread among the three parishes in the city and they were assisted in the summer months by the Benedictines from St. Anselm's College in Manchester.
Drouin said that regular attendance began falling in the 1990s, particularly at St. Helena, as the conversion of motels and cottages to condominiums slowed the turnover of summer visitors and increased the number of seasonal residents, many of whom worshiped at the larger churches in the city. As the number of parishioners dwindled in 2010 the three parishes ultimately became on, which today is served by two priests, and a year later the Our Lady of the Lakes church building was offered for sale.
Drouin explained that in 2012 the pastoral and finance council undertook a study of St. Helena and found it in need of repairs estimated to cost about $200,000. He said that the council concluded that what he called "a 24-hour church," where mass was held on Saturdays and Sundays for 12 weeks between Memorial Day and Labor Day, did not warrant the investment. The parish petitioned the bishop to sell the property.
Last Updated on Saturday, 06 December 2014 01:13
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