Shadows fall on State School property sale


LACONIA — The City Council may find itself reconsidering the prospects of purchasing the former Laconia State School property on North Main Street in light of the findings of an advisory committee that the costs of addressing its environmental issues and maintaining its infrastructure, along with encumbrances on the site, heighten the risks of its successful redevelopment.

The committee was convened by the governor and Executive Council and is chaired by Vicki Quiram, commissioner of the state's Department of Administrative Services, to package the property for sale. The panel has identified a handful of issues, which are not only likely to diminish the value and hinder the sale of the property but also to cool the city's interest in acquiring it.

"We're discussing selling this property as if it has value," said Matt Lahey, who represents the city of Laconia on the committee. "Does this property have any value at all?"

The entire property stretches over about 245 acres, divided into five parcels, and houses 24 buildings and between eight and 10 smaller structures. Three of the parcels, including the 10.24 acres of the Robbie Mills Sports Complex and two undeveloped parcels, were leased to the city for 99 years. The main campus straddling Right Way Path consists of approximately 200 acres.

Quiram wondered whether the three parcels encumbered by the leases to the city — the 10.24 acres comprising the Robbie Mills Sports Complex, a 7.5 acre lot at the junction of Meredith Center Road and Lane Road and a 10.4 acre parcel at the corner of North Main Street and Old North Main Street — should be offered together with the 200-acre tract or sold separately. She asked Lahey what the city would prefer. He said he could not speak for the City Council, but suggested that the city might consider surrendering its leases on two of the properties in return for acquiring the Robbie Mills Sports Complex and perhaps the 70 adjacent acres, known as Risley Field, which the city leases annually to provide parking for the athletic facility.

The property is home to a so-called "designated receiving facility," or DRF, two buildings that house sexual offenders with developmental disabilities, at the northwest corner of the property. Dawn Touzin of the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services, which operates the DRF, said that the agency "is committed to moving the facility" and has requested $6 million in the 2017-2018 capital budget to construct an alternative. However, she said, "It's a matter of finding a location. We're flying blind without knowing where we're going to land. If we can't move it, we can't close it."

Tim Drew of the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services, presented a summary of the identified environmental issues at the site together with estimated costs of assessing, but not remediating, these conditions. The department estimated the cost of an environmental assessment of the entire property at $620,900, which includes $262,500 for assessing the presence of hazardous building materials, such as paints containing lead and organic chemicals and asbestos, in the buildings on the property. Drew cautioned that the estimates are approximations based on a preliminary environmental assessment undertaken by Credere Associates Inc. in 2010.

Lahey reminded the committee that Nobis Engineering Inc., after completing an assessment of the Blood Building, one of two dozen significant buildings on the property, estimated the cost of abating and remediating the environmental hazards at between $175,000 and $290,000 exclusive of engineering costs. He told the committee that the city was the sole entity eligible for funding from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to address the environmental concerns.

The committee agreed that encumbrances represented by easements for water and sewer services as well as snowmobile trails could be satisfactorily resolved and incorporated into an offer to sell the property.

Meanwhile, Michael Connor, deputy commissioner of administrative services, pointed out that the state currently budgets $386,000 annually to maintain the property, a cost that would fall to the city should it acquire the property.

After the meeting, Lahey said that without an assurance that the DRF would be relocated, the unknown cost of addressing the environmental conditions and the annual cost of maintaining the property doubted the property would sell to a private party, leaving the city the buyer of last resort. Quiram appears to share his view, noting that brokers may be reluctant to invest time and money to market the property aggressively knowing it could ultimately be sold to the city without a commission to the broker.

The property was appraised for $2.16 million in 2012 and the state budget projected $2 million in revenue for its sale. The city has contemplated acquiring the property since 2010, and in 2012 offered to purchase it for its appraised value. Nevertheless, Lahey, once an advocate for purchasing the site, said that when he reports to the City Council the first question he will ask is "Are you still interested?"

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Tate Aldrich, LHS English teacher, named Teacher of Year


LACONIA — Filling the ranks of the bleachers of gymnasium, the teachers and students of Laconia High School rose as one on Tuesday to cheer and applaud the selection of Tate Aldrich as New Hampshire Teacher of the Year.

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A graduate of Laconia High School, whose father, Jack, teaches culinary arts at the Huot Technical Center, Aldrich returned to his alma mater after graduating from the University of New Hampshire and has begun his eighth year teaching English.

"I am so proud to be a part and a product of this city," Aldrich said in accepting the honor. "I am who I am thanks to the city of Laconia and the University of New Hampshire."

He thanked his parents, his colleagues and especially the students. "A roomful of Laconia students is more inspiring than being named Teacher of the Year," he said.

Virginia Barry, New Hampshire Commissioner of Education, presented the award, which is the highlight of the program sponsored by the New Hampshire Department of Education in partnership with Hannaford Supermarkets. As Teacher of the Year, Aldrich will be among the candidates for National Teacher of the Year, a title awarded in Washington in April.

"I'm so lucky to have the opportunity to work here," Aldrich said. "Laconia is a special place and Sachem Pride is a real thing."

This year, he is teaching freshmen and juniors, reading what he called "the traditional books — 'Animal Farm,' 'Huckleberry Finn,' 'The Great Gatsby' — taking a new look at the old standbys."

He said he seeks to relate the material to the lives of his students and to encourage them to engage in critical thinking.

"I try to get into their heads and find out how they're thinking," he said. Education, he remarked, "should be an adventure for both teachers and students. I expect a lot, and I'm reborn every day. Teaching is the best part of my day, every day."

His father said that Aldrich "had a lot of wisdom as a kid" and "wanted to be a teacher before he ever said so, by the time he was in eighth grade. He loved the learning process," he said, adding that at the end of the school day the two talk about little other than teaching. "He's my best friend," he said.

Dave Bartlett, interim principal, described Aldrich as a teacher with aspirations for his students and for himself, who both challenges and supports those in his classes.

One freshman called Aldrich "awesome," while Ashley Burgos, a junior, said she enjoyed his classes, remembered him as "honest," and added "You could go to him for help anytime you wanted."

Helen Tautkus, a senior, confessed that as a freshman she was something of a "slacker," but said that changed after joining Aldrich's class as a sophomore.

"I became more confident in myself," she said. "He inspired me to do better and I wanted to do better. I worked a lot harder because of what he taught me."

Describing Aldrich as "enigmatic and subtle," senior Ben Montembeault tacitly testified to his proficiency at teaching English. He recalled that class began with Aldrich writing down his "pet peeves" and asking his students to do the same, then matching the lists to find a suitable protocol for conducting the class. "He can be your number one cheerleader," he said, "or your number one a**kicker, but he will try to bend heaven and earth to help his students. Screw up, and he helps."

Outside the classroom, Aldrich has forged the partnership between the spelling bee and Got Lunch! program and is also engaged with Stand Up Laconia, at once serving both his alma mater and his hometown.

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Tate Aldrich addresses the students of Laconia High School after being named 2017 New Hampshire Teacher of the Year on Friday afternoon.  (Karen Bobotas/for the Laconia Daily Sun)

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Meredith sues over junk in yard


LACONIA — After months of trying to get the renter of a home on Snell Road to clean up the property, the town of Meredith has filed for an injunction or court order in Belknap County Superior Court to get her to do so.

The town says that Rachel Mount is the tenant of the property on 12 Snell Road and the property is owned by Constance Leggett of Florida.

According to the pleadings, in order to operate a junk yard, a person must obtain a license from the state and a certificate of location that would be granted by the selectmen.

In this case, the town, through photos and written statements, says that since April there have been "several large piles of trash, debris and garbage, including but not limited to a bob house packed to capacity and overflowing with 'junk.'"

Pleadings say that neither Mount nor Leggett has filed for a junk yard license or has permission to operate on at 12 Snell Road.

The town, through the efforts of the public health officer, sent letters on April 13, May 16 and July 14 instructing the defendants to remedy the problem.

A letter dated Aug. 15, 2016, from the town attorney informed Mount and Leggett the property constitutes a public nuisance and demands the defendants remedy the junk-yard conditions.

The suit asks for a fine of $275 daily since Aug. 15 for each day they have refused to bring the property into compliance. The town is also seeking attorney fees.

The town has also hedged its bet by saying that should the court find that Mount and Leggett have not violated any zoning ordinances or site plan regulation but does find a violation of the junk yard statute, that the court order a penalty of $50 per day until it is cleaned up.

Neither Leggett nor Mount has responded to the request for an injunction.

An attempt by The Sun to find Mount was unsuccessful, and only a post office box is known for Leggett.

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Trash has been piling up at 12 Snell Road in Meredith since April. (Courtesy photo)

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