Colonial refurb sticker shock

Mayor says city is likely to have to put more money into project


LACONIA — The city has already made a major financial commitment to refurbishing the historic Colonial Theater, but it will likely be asked to devote even more money to the project, Mayor Ed Engler told the City Council Monday night.

“There's something I want to put on the table since it's sort of the elephant in the room,” Engler said during a budget discussion. “What I can say tonight is that in order for that project to succeed, it is very, very likely the city is going to have to increase its financial contribution.”

He explained Tuesday that construction bids on the project came in more than $3 million higher than the original projected cost of $8.9 million.

The Belknap Economic Development Council, which owns the Colonial and is using a mix of state, federal, city and donor funds to bring the 103-year-old theater back to life, has been examining how much can be cut from the project to bring down costs.

The city has already loaned $1.4 million to the Economic Development Council to buy the theater. When construction financing is finalized, that loan is to be repaid and the city is to grant a new one in the amount of $3 million, which can be rolled over into ownership of the theater. After it opens, the city has agreed to pay $120,000 yearly to rent the theater.

It is looking like the size of the new loan will increase significantly, Engler said. Operating expenses could rise as well.

“The city will have to put more money into it,” Engler said. “How much more and how the city can afford it are the questions.”

City Manager Scott Myers said the city uses undesignated reserve money to contribute to the project. The city has more than $4 million in such reserves. But depending how much more money is required, the city could be put in the position of not having enough reserve funds on hand to pay for unanticipated expenses.

Meanwhile, it has taken longer than expected to assemble the complicated funding package for the project. The date for finalizing construction financing, which includes federal historic tax credits, has slipped from Jan. 1 to April 30 to Aug. 30.

The economic development council is working with funding groups, including the city, to find a way to close the gap between the original construction estimate and the higher construction bid.

Justin Slattery, executive director of the economic development council, said that through cutbacks, they’ve winnowed the contractor’s bid to $10.2 million, essentially cutting $2 million off of the overage. The overall project cost, including design fees and real estate purchase, is $16 million.

There will likely be public discussion of whether the ornate theater would be properly restored given all these cuts.

The goal is not only to cut costs but to ensure the restoration is done to a high standard.

“There's a balance to it,” Slattery said. “We want to have a quality, finished product in the end.”
Engler said the discrepancy between the original estimate for the construction and the construction bid arises from the complicated nature of the work to be done.

“It's hard to estimate things like restoring fresco paintings, but the fact that they were off by a third was shocking,” he said.

Despite the complications, Engler said a revitalized Colonial Theatre will be worthwhile for downtown, especially since federal participation will cover significant costs. Two federal tax credit programs will provide $7.6 million.

The project, part of an effort to revitalize the downtown core, is also to include 14 market-rate apartments and retail space.

“I'm still confident we'll be able to pull all this together even if it costs more than originally thought,” Engler said. “We can't lose sight of the fact that we'll end up with a $16 million theater project and the federal government will pay half.”

Colonial Theatre Aug 2016

People took a tour of the theater last August, after workers had finished the demolition of walls that divided the space into several different screening rooms. Restoration of the frescoes is proving to be more expensive than anticipated. (Adam Drapcho/Laconia Daily Sun)

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A summer in Madagascar

Laconia's Sean Cashman visits east African island nation as part of ROTC training


LACONIA – Unlike many college kids who return home to hold a summer job, Sean Cashman began his summer break with lemurs, history lessons and artillery units in the heart of Madagascar.

As an ROTC student at Pennsylvania State University, Cashman was presented with the opportunity to apply for the Cultural Understanding and Language Proficiency Program offered through the U.S. Army. To be accepted into this competitive program, cadets need to show high scores on the physical training test, a high GPA, and be ranked high on the Order of Merit List, which is based off his rank in his college’s ROTC program and any other distinctions noted from other past programs.

Cashman was notified in November that of the 25 students from Penn State that applied to the program, he was one of only five students accepted. Following his acceptance into the program, he was notified he would be spending three weeks in Madagascar, where he would spend time learning about another culture through immersion, military to military exchange, volunteer service and educational programs.

“Once I was accepted, I got a packet with information and had to start learning all about Madagascar by studying the history, language and culture,” said Cashman.

Although Cashman’s studies extended to the culture of all of Madagascar, he focused many of his studies on the capital, Antananarivo, which was where he was stationed during his time abroad. During his studies, he became aware that there are often high levels of theft and corruption in the capital, and that the nation is highly impoverished. However, his studies only took him so far, as the real lessons learned came when his plane touched down.

His team of 27 ROTC members from around the country arrived in Africa May 15 after a four-day briefing at an Army base in Kentucky. Once settled in, the group was split into three teams that each had one active duty member leading the group. This team became the core group that Cashman spent his three weeks working and training with, and as a result many of the fellow cadets have become some of his close friends.

Each day Cashman was given the opportunity to view the nation from a different perspective. Some experiences that affected him mostl included his time working in the schools teaching American Sports and doing volunteer work in the villages. While working alongside the locals, he helped with farming with reforestation groups. He also had the opportunity to work in an orphanage where they did a beautification project.

From the experiences in the villages, Cashman said that was truly struck by the high level of poverty that plagues the nation.

“I learned that 90 percent of people in Madagascar live on just $1.50 a day, yet they would still welcome us into their houses and give us food or anything we needed,” said Cashman. He further went on to note that the closeness of the communities was heartwarming, as you do not often see this in the United States.

Cashman also had the opportunity to work with the Army of Madagascar, where he had the chance to collaborate on military training. During his two-day field training exercise with the army, he noted that there were many differences in the level of technology and tactical resources available. For example, Cashman was surprised that the army in Madagascar still uses high frequency radios in trees, whereas the United States uses satellites. Laughing, he also said that the army over there was not as attentive to time as the U.S. Army is. However, despite the differences he was pleased that everyone was eager to learn from each other and work together.

“It was a humbling experience because it helped me see the way other people live and helped me get out of the United States 'bubble,'” said Cashman, adding that the program hopes to train the next generation of military officers to see the world through a broad and accepting lens. 

Following his return to the United States two weeks ago, the team went to Kentucky to debrief on their experience. During this time, all cadets were required to record information about Madagascar that may be important for the U. S. government and provide an account of their personal experience throughout the deployment. 

Currently, Cashman, a member of the Laconia High School class of 2015, is hoping to eventually pursue a career in aviation or military intelligence, and is set to graduate from Penn State in 2019 as a 2nd lieutenant. Due to his positive experience with the CULP program, he now hopes to leave the work abroad for the military and learn about other cultures. He is headed to West Point next week for further military training.

“I learned so much during this experience, I would definitely do it again another time if I could,” said Cashman. “I hope that anyone thinking of joining ROTC does, because it offers great opportunities and opens your eyes to what the world has to offer.”

 06 27 Sean Cashman kids 2 06 27 Sean Cashman kids 1

06 27 Sean Cashman lemur 06 27 Sean Cashman villagers

Sean Cashman started off the summer with a month in Madagascar, where he volunteered to do farming and reforestation projects, even getting to meet a lemur up close. The Penn State student will spend time at West Point next week for more military training with the ROTC. (Courtesy photos)06 27 Sean Cashman flag 06 27 Sean Cashman villagers 2

06 27 Sean Cashman ROTC

Cashman attends an ROTC class during his stay in Madagascar. (Courtesy photo)

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New cop downtown?


LACONIA — The police chief did not ask for a new officer in his budget request, but the City Council is talking about giving him one.

Councilor Brenda Baer suggested during budget discussions Monday night that the city find a way to add a new officer, saying one is needed to fight the opioid crisis and perhaps to boost community policing efforts in the downtown core.

Although no official action was taken on her request, there were no objections to reconsidering the idea once Chief Matt Canfield puts together a proposal for a new officer, who could possibly start midway through the fiscal year, which begins July 1. The city now has 41 police officers.

“We're sort of making a promise to ourselves to revisit the issue over the next six months,” Mayor Ed Engler said.

On Tuesday, Baer said an additional officer could make a big difference. She said it would be up to the department as to how to use a new officer, but she said a cop walking the beat downtown could be a good idea.

“A lot of people in the Beacon Street West condominiums moved there so they could walk downtown and enjoy Rotary Park and the Riverwalk, and they sometimes don't feel safe,” she said.

Canfield said he will apply for federal funding through a competitive process. If he is successful, this funding could pay 75 percent of the costs of salary and benefits of a new officer for three years, with the city picking up these expenses after that.

“Our officers have some of the highest call volume in the state per officer,” Canfield said.

He said a new patrol officer could be used to help fight illegal drugs, both through community outreach and enforcement. Additional manpower would also allow for a greater presence on the street, and a greater ability to “park, walk and talk.”

Baer's suggestion will have to overcome funding obstacles.

City councilors are sensitive to adding new staff unless there is continuing revenue to support the newly hired person's salary along with medical benefits and retirement expense.

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