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Laconia Heritage Commission looks to lengthen time city gets to react to proposed demolition of buildings

LACONIA — Troubled by the recent loss of several historic buildings in the city, the Heritage Commission will ask the Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA) to amend the demolition ordinance to apply to a greater number of properties and allow more time to explore alternatives to demolition. The commission will present its proposal when the ZBA meets on Monday, April 20.

The proposed amendment opens by stressing that the demolition of historic buildings "should be avoided when possible and practical" and only undertaken as "an action of last resort".

Pam Clark, who chairs the Heritage Commission, said that the commission will ask the ZBA to recommend the amended ordinance to the City Council, which has the final say.

The ordinance applies to "significant buildings", which are defined by four criteria. A significant building must be one with features and qualities meeting the national or state criteria for designating "a historical, cultural or architectural landmark". Buildings constructed to an uncommon design with unusual materials that could only be reproduced at great expense would also qualify. Finally, the ordinance would extend to buildings of such architectural value or historic interest that their demolition would be adverse to the public interest as well as to buildings whose preservation would preserve a place of historic character and value. While the original ordinance applied to buildings 75 years old and older, the amendment would reduce the age of significant buildings to 50 years.

The remainder of the ordinance prescribes the process triggered when an application is made to demolish a building that the Heritage Commission determines is "significant". The process begins with a public hearing scheduled and hosted by the commission at which the owner presents plans for the property and members of the public can propose alternatives to demolition.

If no agreement about he future of the property is reached, further discussion between the Heritage Commission and property owner shall be held within 10 business days. If still no agreement is reached the commission may petition the City Council to delay the issuance of the demolition permit for another 180 days to allow time to pursue alternatives, including acquisition of the property. When all options have been exhausted and no petition to extend the 180 day time period has been submitted, the property owner may proceed with demolition.

With the consent of the property owner, the Heritage Commission shall document the structure and features of the building and encourage the owner to salvage significant architectural features.

Clark said that the commission expects to engage an intern during the summer months who will begin the process of taking an inventory of historic properties in the downtown, in Lakeport and at the Weirs.

Last Updated on Friday, 17 April 2015 01:22

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Gilford parents voice strong support for emphasis on 'weighted' grading

GILFORD — A School Board Policy Committee meeting which nearly 35 parents attended Wednesday night morphed into a emotional yet philosophical discussion about children, how they learn, and what benefits, if any, there are to grade "weighting".

Nearly all of the parents who spoke wanted the district to reverse its decision to stop weighting honors-level classes and add additional weight only to Advanced Placement-level classes.

In lieu of weighting honors classes, the district currently offers a "diploma with distinction" that requires a 3.5 weighted average over four years and honors or A.P. classes in all of the core subjects plus at least four blocks of a foreign language.

Principal Peter Sawyer estimated that about 12 of the 140 students in the senior class would achieve that rank.

A weighted scale gives more credit to more rigorous classes. For example, an A-plus in A.P. Chemistry earns a student a 5.3 on a 4.0 scale. Right now, an A-plus in honors or college prep chemistry earns a 4.3 and an A earns a 4.0. Theoretically, a top student could have a 5.3 grade point average in all of his or her core four classes — English, Social Studies, Math, and Science — but see a drop in overall GPA by taking a band course that only has a possibility of a 4.3 — making the GPA or Grade Point Average drop.

Sawyer is an advocate of eliminating grade weighting for a number of reasons — that colleges and universities use their own system for acceptance, that class rank and weighting grades allows student to "game" the system, and, in some cases, weighting will stop a student from taking a liberal arts class because there is no weight added to it and, in extraordinary cases, an "A" could lower an overall GPA.

"Our job is to make sure kids are challenging themselves," Sawyer said, meaning the guidance department and teachers should be steering students to classes that challenge their intellect but don't challenge them to the point that they get in over their head and become frustrated and unhappy.

But most of the parents didn't see it that way.

As to the diploma with distinction, one woman had a son who went through a rough time in his freshman year, got a "D" in a core class, and she said he then couldn't earn the diploma with distinction no matter how hard he tried.

Another parent said she continually pressured her child to take the more rigorous classes and now she's in veterinary school, but she needed the carrot of weighted grades to help her impress upon her daughter how important taking more rigorous classes is.

Also attending last night's Policy Committee meeting were Gilmanton School Board members Frank Weeks and Adam Mini. Two of the seven seats in the combined high school board are from Gilmanton.

Weeks, like Sawyer, said he was less concerned about GPA and grade weighting as it applies to admissions and scholarships because a close relative of his is on the admissions team at an Ivy League school and has told him that the vast majority of colleges strip out weighted grades and use their own system.

Weeks said the Gilmanton School Board is divided on the issue.

Parents were also concerned with the importance of class rank. If a school uses GPA to rank students, and Gilford does, then not finishing in the top 10 or the top 10-percent of their class, can effect college admissions — especially to top tier colleges.

"Very few thing in the world aren't ranked in some way," said one parent who supports weighting for ranking reasons.

Middle School Principal Sydney Leggett agreed with Sawyer. She said all that weighting grades and ranking classes have done is make students focused on that aspect of learning and not learning for learning's sake.

"We need a culture change and if not now, when," she said.

But her son partially disagreed with her.

"I believe in rewarding kids," said Connor Leggett. "But what's bothers me is that kids won't take other classes (art, music, theater, band) because of the weighted GPA.

The two policy committee members, Jack Landow and Chris McDonough, sat silent for most of the two and one-half hour meeting. They did not meet after the public discussion was done and the meeting adjourned.

The next step is for Landow and McDonough to meet again in a posted committee meeting and have a discussion about this and other policies. The policy committee will make a recommendation to the full School Board.

Both Landow and McDonough said they had a lot of information to process and declined any further comment.

Last Updated on Friday, 17 April 2015 01:17

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Common Core not popular in Belknap County Delegation

CONCORD — Eleven of the 18 members of the Belknap County Delegation, all of them Republicans, who were present and voting endorsed a bill to prohibit the New Hampshire Department of Education from requiring any school district to introduce and apply the so-called Common Core education standards. Senate Bill 101 carried the Senate by a voice vote and the House of Representatives by 202 to 138.

The voting for the bill were Representatives Glen Aldrich, Russ Dumais and George Hurt of Gilford, Dennis Fields of Sanbornton, Valerie Fraser of New Hampton, Ray Howard of Alton, Bob Luther, Peter Spanos and Frank Tilton of Laconia, Michael Sylvia of Belmont and Herb Vadney of Meredith. Representatives Guy Comtois of Barnstead, Robert Fisher and Don Flanders of Laconia, Brian Gallagher of Sanbornton, Shari LeBreche of Belmont, and Peter Varney of Alton did not vote.

Last Updated on Friday, 17 April 2015 01:13

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Festival music director sees much to admire in Tom Nee's legacy

PLYMOUTH — Donato Cabrera, who returns to the Granite State for his third straight summer as music director of the New Hampshire Music Festival, says that one of his goals this year is to focus on the great history of the festival and bring back some of the connection to the community which was one of the hallmarks of the festival under the leadership of Tom Nee, the festival's music director from 1960 to 1992.
''I love hearing stories about him,'' says Cabrera, whose roots are on the West Coast where Nee headed the Department of Music at the University of California at San Diego and conducted the La Jolla Symphony, and is, like Nee, a champion of new and experimental music.
Cabrera, who was born in Pasadena, California and grew up in Nevada, says that many of his contemporaries were students of Nee and shared with him their experiences in learning the art of conducting from Nee.
Cabrera has been the resident conductor of the San Francisco Symphony (SFS) and the Wattis Foundation music director of the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra (SFSYO) since 2009. In 2014, Cabrera was appointed music director of the Las Vegas Philharmonic Orchestra and has been music director of the California Symphony and the New Hampshire Music Festival since 2013.
''What is striking about Nee and his connection to New Hampshire is the love and connection that the musicians and the audiences felt for him. I think it's important that we learn from that connection and bring back that esprit de corps that he established,'' says Cabrera, who says that his experience in New Hampshire has shown him that there is ''a huge need and love of music in this area'' that keeps the festival a vital part of the Lakes Region.
He says that he is looking forward to then festival's 63rd season, which runs from July 7 through August 6 and has a theme of ''American Landscapes'' and will explore and celebrate American music and the great outdoors.
He says that one of the things that the festival will be bringing back will be "Music in the Mountains", which will provide sunrise, sunset and campground concerts, as well as music in area bars and cafes.
''It's a way of connecting with people and it seems really appropriate for an area with such a beautiful landscape to have music be a part of the experience,'' says Cabrera.
He says that the only time the Music Festival made it into the New York Times was an article written by Jordan Houston in the August 10, 1975 edition. The article, which was headlined "Bach-Packing, or Carrying Music to New Heights", which described the daily routine of a half dozen musicians hiking to Appalachian Mountain Club huts on Mount Washington to give concerts.
In another outreach move the orchestra will be taking part in a special event "Oz with Orchestra" on Monday, July 27 at 7 p.m. at the Bank of New Hampshire Pavilion in Gilford in which it will provide music during a showing of the 1939 classic film.
Cabrera says that he is thrilled with the appearance at Meadowbrook, a venue he has wanted to bring the orchestra to ever since he first saw it.
Other outreach activities include Families Making Music programs with students, children and parents and art showing with the Women's Caucus for Art.
Cabrera says the festival has been awarded a grant by the National Endowment for the Humanities as part of the "Music Unwound" consortium. The grant will support the presentation of the acclaimed 'Dvorak in America' program which features a performance of Dvorak's stirring Symphony No. 9 "From the New World" complemented by multimedia and narration by scholar-writer Joseph Horowitz.
He says that the presentation is fascinating and describes what it means to be an American when it comes to its own style of music.
Cabrera says that the Czech composer lived in America for three years while composing music about the New World and spent a summer in a Bohemian community in Iowa after having been invited there by a student. ''I've visited there. The organ where he played his compositions is still there as s the Bohemian stye restaurant where the meals were served on long wooden tables along with Czech beer.''
Cabrera, who has established an international reputation for his conducting skills, says that he considers himself fortunate to be spending his summers in the lakes and mountains of New Hampshire. That feeling appears to be mutual with friends of the N.H. Music Festival, who say they consider themselves fortunate to have Cabrera as music director.

Detailed concert and ticket information is available at www.nhmf.org.

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Donato Cabrera returns for his third summer as Music Director of the New Hampshire Music Festival. (Courtesy photo)

Last Updated on Friday, 17 April 2015 01:10

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