Band class is back - Laconia HS symphony band will remain in school day schedule


LACONIA — The symphonic band program will remain a part of the school day and not treated as an after-school activity in the forthcoming school year. David Bartlett, interim principal of Laconia High School, announced the change yesterday.

In April, Jim McCollum, who resigned as principal of Laconia High School in June, made clear the band program would no longer be a daytime class, but rather would meet during what he called a "fifth block," between 2 p.m. and 3:30 p.m., at the end of the school day. He explained that reductions in the school district budget led to the elimination of four teaching positions, without which the band program could not be scheduled during the school day while keeping class sizes to reasonable numbers.

When the decision was announced, Debbie Gibson, the longtime music director who retired last month, rallied band members in an effort to reverse it. At school board meetings in May, June and July, students and parents again and again stressed the importance of ensuring the music program remained an integral part of the school day. At the same time, Gibson offered the school administration and school board several alternative means of scheduling the program during the school day without incurring additional expense.

Gibson hailed yesterday's decision as "a great step forward."

"The number one thing," she said, "is that this has taught the students a real-life civics lesson," explaining that they learned to be "positive, present and passionate" to succeed in bringing about change.

"I'm very excited," said Colleen O'Brien, the incoming president of the band. "It's going to allow kids engaged in other activities to stay in the band. She feared at least 15 of 50 members of the band would leave the program if it became an after-school activity, explaining that more than half play sports while others are in engaged in drama and other activities. Even if band is not their first priority," she continued, "they're all important to our small family."

Bartlett said that the symphonic band program will be scheduled during "Sachem Support," a 48-minute daily block set aside for students to seek academic assistance or pursue enrichment opportunities by meeting with teachers and counselors. The jazz band, which numbers about a dozen, will remain an after-school program and two sections of chorus will meet for half the year each. He said that he had met with Krin Montrose, Gibson's successor, several times, most recently this week, and they reached the decision together. "I think we've alleviated a lot of concerns," he said.

School Superintendent Brendan Minnihan welcomed the decision, which he said addresses the most significant concerns expressed to the school board. Meanwhile, he said that the school administration will be reconsidering the schedule in general in the course of the coming school year.

"We have to look at everything," Bartlett agreed, "including the block schedule in terms of what is best for all our students." At the same time, he cautioned "there isn't a perfect schedule. There just isn't."

Gibson, a critic of block scheduling, said she is pleased that the future of the band program has contributed to a reconsideration of the entire schedule.

"This was not just for us, not just about the band," she said. "The music students represented the whole school, including the advanced placement students and the students at the Huot Technical Center."

Prison farm benefits more than inmates


LACONIA — A farming operation at the Belknap County House of Corrections is benefiting from new techniques designed to extend the growing season, and is now offering tomatoes and peppers at its farm stand, which is open from noon to 5 p.m. daily.
The tomatoes and peppers are being grown in a high tunnel greenhouse which was built last year at the county complex with assistance from the Belknap County Conservation District, according to Lisa Morin,  district program coordinator. They spent nearly $6,000 on the greenhouse system, she said.
Sgt. Robert Mott, who is in charge of the farm program, led a tour of the farm operations at the facility Wednesday morning in which he showed the high tunnel greenhouse and another recently installed greenhouse where herbs are grown, as well as the one-acre garden area where a large variety of crops, including squash, cucumbers, Brussels sprouts and broccoli, are being grown along with pumpkins, corn, potatoes and lettuce.
Mott said that the greenhouse has a drip-irrigation system and maintains a temperature of 60 degrees or higher, creating rapid plant growth, and has a pollination garden next to it which attracts bees to ensure pollination of the crops grown inside.
“A lot of what’s being grown here is already spoken for by places like the Local Eatery,” said Mott, adding that he is constantly learning about agriculture thanks to people like Kelly McAdam of the Extension Service and Lisa Morin of the Belknap County Conservation District.
He said the garden area has the benefit of water for irrigation from a deep well next to it which has allowed the crops to be watered during dry periods.
“What you’re seeing is the result of a lot of hard work by inmates. We have four or five guys who are out here working 10 to 12 hours a day, seven days a week to take care of the crops. They take a lot of pride in their work and feel good about seeing the plants they started as seedlings starting to produce food. All the credit goes to them,” said Mott.
One of the hardest workers is Ray Richford, a 57-year-old inmate from the Bristol-Alexandria area who is sort of the go-to guy when it comes to gardening.
Richford said he grew up farming and milking cows and enjoys working outdoors, rain or shine, to keep things growing. He noted that so far this year there have been 17 woodchucks trapped and removed from the garden area. He keeps track of all the different kinds of vegetables being grown and can describe the different tastes of all the varieties of summer squash which are being grown.
He said the first corn crop which was planted didn’t take, but the second planting did and is coming along well in the summer heat. Herbs being grown include basil, rosemary, chives, parsley and thyme. There’s also kale and rhubarb chard.
Raime Shaw and Shawn Patraw are two of the others spending a lot of time in the gardens his year.
“It’s hard work, and taking care of the weeds just never stops. Even when you pull them out by the roots, you’ll see some new ones coming through the ground the next day. But it’s really nice to be out here,” said Raime.
Patraw said it’s a good feeling to see the work he’s putting in producing some tangible results. “You feel good about yourself at the end of the day.”
Mott said none of what is being grown goes to waste and that a lot of it used by the Belknap County Nursing Home’s kitchen. He said that a large crop of pumpkins is expected, many of which will be used at this fall’s Pumpkin Fest in Laconia.
The farming program was reinstated at the Department of Corrections last year after having been cut as a cost-saving measure several years ago. Superintendent Keith Gray said the program ran at no cost to the county last year and that it very beneficial for the inmates.

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Shawn Patraw, an inmate at the Belknap County House of Corrections, mans the farm stand at the Belknap County complex where produce grown by the inmates is being sold to the public. The stand is open afternoons from noon to 5 p.m. and offers a wide variety of produce, from squash, zucchini and cucumbers, to tomatoes and peppers. (Roger Amsden/The Laconia Daily Sun)

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Sgt. Robert Mott of the Belknap County Corrections Department shows the tomato plants which are being grown in a high tunnel greenhouse at the county complex. (Roger Amsden/The Laconia Daily Sun)

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A one-acre plot of land being farmed by inmates of the Belknap County House of Corrections is producing a bumper crop of summer squash. (Roger Amsden/The Laconia Daily Sun)

Police interview challenged in Tilton drug death


LACONIA — A judge will decide whether or a Northfield man waived his constitutional rights to a lawyer and against self-incrimination during his statements to police regarding his alleged sale of heroin/fentanyl to a 21-year-old Tilton man who died after taking the drugs.

Brian Watson, 51, of Northfield is charged with a single count of sales of heroin/fentanyl with death resulting. Police say he sold Seth Tilton-Fogg the drugs that killed him on April 2, 2015.

In a two-hour hearing on Wednesday, a defense attorney representing Watson, 51, argued that his client never properly waived his rights to an attorney or to not talk with police and he only agreed to sit with them and listen to what they had to say.

"Understanding his rights and waiving them are two completely different things," contended attorney Mark Sisti, who spoke briefly after the hearing in Belknap County Superior Court.

Sisti also argued that Watson was never told by police that he was being questioned about a death, but was only told he had been arrested for the sale of drugs.

"It's like arresting someone for shoplifting and then asking him about a homicide," Sisti said, adding that not telling Watson about the real charges he was facing also violated his constitutional rights.

Watson was arrested on May 8, 2015, by two Tilton Police detectives and was told he was charged with sales of drugs.

Detective Bryan Kydd-Keeler testified he read Watson his constitutional rights from a card he carries with him after he arrested Watson in a traffic stop on School Street. Detective Nathan Buffington, who conducted the actual interview, said he didn't hear Watson's actual responses along the side of the road, but before questioning him in the interview room he asked Watson if he still understood his rights and said Watson replied "Yes."

Both detectives testified Wednesday that they didn't tell Watson he was being interviewed about the death of Tilton-Fogg. Both also said they never directly asked Watson if he was willing to waive his constitutional rights and both said they didn't use a written form that could have been given to him that requires a check mark for each of his Miranda Rights and a signature at the bottom.

Buffington said that when Watson was leaving the booking room on his way to the interview room, Buffington asked Watson if he would be willing to talk to him. Watson said he wasn't sure, but went forward with the interview without coercion or threats.

During the hearing, Assistant Prosecutor Carley Ahern played the entire police interview with Watson for the court. The victim's family wept as they heard police ask Watson questions about his life, then drugs sales and then about their son.

Watson told police that he was an out-of-work mechanical engineer who took to selling drugs because he couldn't pay his bills. He also told them about meeting Teanna Bryson, who he said was a heroin addict who got him into both using and selling drugs.

When the interview turned to Tilton-Fogg, Buffington told Watson he had all of the text messages he had sent or received, including one from Bryson to Watson that said that their drugs had killed Tilton-Fogg. Watson texted back to not discuss it.

During the interview, Watson said he had heard someone else's dope had killed him, but when Buffington told him that Tilton-Fogg died with his phone in his hand and that he was trying to reach Watson, Watson said he told him to be careful and to not overdo it.

"I hate the fact that he died," Watson said.

"What message can I send to (Tilton-Fogg's mother)?" asked Buffington, pressing Watson, who admitted to selling him heroin on multiple occasions. "So if he had followed your instructions, he wouldn't have died?"

When Buffington told Watson that police knew he sold more drugs within 30 seconds of learning that Tilton-Fogg had died, Watson replied that it was news to him that it killed him.

Jury selection is scheduled for Aug. 1. The trial is scheduled to start Aug. 3 and last for 10 "Belknap County days," meaning that the entire day will not be taken up with it and the court will conduct other business.

As of this writing, there is still the unresolved matter of Bryson, who failed to appear for any scheduled hearings regarding her rights to self-incrimination.

Sisti said that if she can't be found, the text messages between the two cannot be authenticated and should not be allowed into evidence. Ahern said that a subpoena has been issued for her appearance and she is confident Bryson will be available for trial.