City, state officials begin talks on sale of State School land

LACONIA — Conversation between city and state officials about the sale of the former Laconia State School property on North Main Street opened Thursday when Mayor Ed Engler and City Manager Scott Myers met with Michael Connor, deputy commissioner of the Department of Administrative Services at City Hall.
Engler said that the meeting "provided us with a very solid basis from which to proceed" and that he expected to brief the City Council and general public "very soon, if not this month, in January."
The sale of the property was included in the 2016-2017 state budget, and the terms of the transaction in companion legislation. RSA 4:40, the statute governing the sale or lease of state property, provides that once the state determines it has no need for a property, "the governor and council shall first offer it to the town, city or county where it is located."
However, Engler said Connor explained that this offer does not represent a right of first refusal, but instead is contingent on an appropriate price. He said that the Department of Administrative Services will hire a broker and put the property on the open market for six months to determine its market value.
While the property is on the market, the city would be entitled to present an offer and Engler anticipated that the department would disclose any offers from other parties to city officials. The highest and best offer for the property would be taken as its market value and it would be offered to the city at that price. The city would have at least 30 days to match the offer.
But, contrary to the statute, the transaction would be exempt from the review and approval of both the Council on Resources and Development, a panel representing executive departments and agencies, and the Long Range Capital Planning and Utilization Committee, consisting of four members of the Senate and four members of the House of Representatives. Instead, the sale would require the approval of only the Governor and Executive Council.
The state budget includes $2 million in revenue from the transaction. In 2012 an appraisal prepared for the state by the Bureau of Right-of-Way of the New Hampshire Department of Transportation placed the value of the site at $2.16 million.
Engler, who has favored purchasing the site, reaffirmed he would advocate acquiring it if it were offered to the city for its appraised value or less. At the same time, he expected any private parties interested in purchasing the property would seek assurances from city officials that their plans for its redevelopment were compatible with the interests of the community. Nor did the mayor exclude the possibility that the city might acquire the property, but subsequently transfer all or some of it to private interests to further its development.
The property consists of slightly less than 200 acres bounded by North Main Street to the east, Meredith Center Road and Eastman Road to the north and Ahern State Park to the west and south and divided roughly in half by Right Way Path. Among the 26 buildings on the site, the appraiser found less than a handful salvageable and estimated the cost of demolishing the rest at more than $2 million.
An initial assessment of the site by Credere, LLC of Westbrook, Maine in 2010 indicated that there were typical but significant environmental concerns, most of them confined to the 75 acres housing the buildings. As the party responsible for the environmental contamination the state cannot qualify for federal funding to address it. But, the city qualifies for funding to assess the extent of the contamination and if were to acquire the site, would be eligible for funding from the United States Environmental Protection Agency to address contamination.
The state first sought to sell the property in 2011, offering it to the city for $10-million. However, soon afterward, two appraisals, one by the state and another by the city, found it was worth about a fifth that much. In April 2012, the Laconia City Council offered to purchase the property, together with the Robbie Mills Sports Complex, an abutting 10.2-acre parcel owned by the state and leased to the city for 99 years, for $2.16 million. The state did not respond to the offer. The property has been on the open market ever since, but the state has received no offers for it.
Connor said the state spends approximately $330,000 annually to maintain and police the property, apart from the cost of any urgent repairs like the replacement of a failing roof.

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Gilford superintendent search committee formed

GILFORD — The committee for the search for a new superintendent has been formed and has set a target deadline for hiring for early March.
School Board Chairman Karen Thurston said Thursday that the search committee is headed by School Board members Chris McDonough and Rae Mello-Andrews and consists of 14 members.
Thurston said the committee includes staff members, teachers, members of the community, parents, and School District Business Administrator Scott Isabelle.
After leading the school district for five years, current Superintendent Kent Hemingway told the board in September he will retire at the end of this school year.
Thurston said the school district is being assisted in its search by the New Hampshire School Boards Association and by Dr. Robert Lister, who is the mayor of Portsmouth and is the former superintendent of schools in that community.
Thurston said the candidate search committee is scheduled to meet next week and will make a full update on their progress at the next School Board on Jan. 4.

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Shep Brown’s Boat Basin scales back plans for new buildings, water use

MEREDITH — After meeting with concerned neighbors and revising its original plan, the owners of Shep Brown's Boat Basin earned the approval of the Planning Board last month for improvements to the boat washing facility and storm water treatment systems at the marina. They agreed to build just one building instead of two, and improve water management.
The marina is located on 8.5 acres that reach from Lake Winnipesaukee to Meredith Neck Road and straddle Lovejoy Sands Road. The marina effectively encircles about an acre of town property that serves as a launch, dock and parking lot. A marina has operated at the location for more than half a century and was grandfathered in 1971 when the town adopted zoning. It is in the shoreline zoning district in the midst of a thickly settled residential neighborhood of waterfront and island properties.
Originally, the firm proposed constructing two buildings. A 32-by-72-foot building with three bays for washing boats and connected to the existing maintenance building would be built on the footprint of a concrete pad where boats are currently washed. The second building, 32 feet by 82 feet, would have four bays for servicing and washing boats with racks to store boats overhead. It would be built on ground, where boats have been stored, as an addition to an existing boat storage building.
The project is intended to assure best management practices by collecting, treating and storing the waste water in a holding tank, which would be pumped regularly. Mitchell Locker of the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services has said the agency supports the project , which "environmentally ... is an improvement" that will "reduce nutrients and sediment from entering surface waters."
In addition to the two buildings, a storm water treatment system would be installed on the site. Storm water collected from roofs and pavement would be directed to a ground water recharge system beneath an area which is currently filled with gravel but would be paved and ringed by a bioretention swale. Lou Caron, the town's consulting engineer, reported that "storm water runoff from the site to the lake will be reduced and the runoff that gets to the lake will be cleaner than today."
At two public hearings abutters and other neighbors voiced many concerns, most arising from the prospect of increased traffic and congestion in an area already under heavy pressure in the summer months. Residents claim that any expansion of activity at the marina will increase traffic on Lovejoy Sands Road, which bisects it. The frequent shuttling of forklifts and trailers, residents claim, poses risks to public safety. Some insist that the noise, traffic and congestion will have an adverse impact on their property values, while others fear the design of buildings fail to meet the standards of the architectural design review ordinance.
In response, the marina dropped the larger of the two buildings, which would have expanded capacity to store boats, from its proposal. Instead, only the smaller building, with three bays for washing boats, will be constructed on the footprint of the outdoor wash facility. In addition, dormers will be added to the front of the new building and the road side of the existing building and spruce-colored siding with brown trim and charcoal-gray roofing added to both buildings to enhance their appearance.
The Planning Board approved the proposals plans to manage the waste water and storm water, which chairman Bill Bayard called "a significant improvement."
Bill Littlefield, who acquired the marina in 2001, could not be reached for comment.
Bayard acknowledged the many concerns voiced by abutters, but noted they are not necessarily issues the Planning Board is authorized to address. He said that the proximity of the town facility to the commercial operation leads to "potential conflicts," but said there are for the town to resolve.

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