Rehab center plan draws opposition

State school property aerial

With over 200 acres of land, two dozen buildings, water frontage and mountain views, the Lakes Region Facility is a prime piece of Laconia real estate. Legislation was introduced last week which would turn the property into a rehab center. (Photo courtesy William Hemmel/


Laconia City Council to discuss proposal to sell State School land to private interests



LACONIA — With the New Hampshire Senate preparing to vote next week on legislation that would foreclose efforts by the city to purchase the former Laconia State School property on North Main Street and instead authorize leasing it for a substance abuse and recovery center, the mayor and City Council, surprised by the proposal, are scrambling to frame an appropriate response.
Earlier this week, the Senate Finance Committee endorsed the proposal introduced by state Sen. Jeanie Forrester (R-Meredith), who chairs the panel, as an an amendment to House Bill 1695 by a vote of four-to-two, with senators Andrew Hosmer (D-Laconia) and John Reagan (R-Deerfield) dissenting. The Senate is expected to vote on the amended bill when it meets next week.
Mayor Ed Engler said the City Council will discuss the issue when it meets on Monday, May 9. He said he will prepare a resolution expressing the council's opposition to the legislation for the councilors to consider. At the same time, he said that he is encouraging Hosmer in his opposition to the proposal as well as contacting members of the House of Representatives who represent the city.
The property consists of about 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, an appraisal commissioned by the state found less than a handful salvageable.

Rehab center proposed
Forrester's proposal would direct Commissioners of the Department of Health and Human Services and Department Administrative Services "to develop and solicit a request for proposals for the private use of the Lakes Region Facility property in Laconia property to provide comprehensive substance abuse treatment and recovery programs." The amendment provides that the request for proposals could include but not be limited to "long term lease purchase agreements, ground lease arrangements, or any other arrangements" considered viable
At the same time, her legislation would deny the city the opportunity to acquire the property, which it has pursued since 2011. Her legislation would repeal the authorization to sell the property included in the 2016-2017 state budget budget. The companion bill to the budget, directed the Department of Administrative Services to sell the property and the budget booked $2 million in revenue from the proceeds of the transaction.
City officials only learned of Forrester's initiative on Friday, April 29, when by chance City Councilor Henry Lipman (Ward 3) was told of her amendment. Forrester herself informed City Manager Scot Myers on Monday, May 2, the day before the Senate Finance Committee held a hearing on the proposal.

Idea dismissed months ago
Although introduced suddenly, the proposal originated months ago when Alex Ray, the owner and founder of the Common Man Family of Restaurants, who developed the Webster Place Recovery Center in Franklin, began eying the Laconia State School property as the site of a similar facility. Ray said he visited the site with Michael Connor, deputy commissioner of the Department of Administrative Services. Connor said that after touring the property, Ray seemed particularly interested in the Peterson and Speare buildings, which, among the 26 on the site, are in relatively good condition. Connor advised Myers of Ray's interest in the property and Engler arranged to meet with him.
On Dec. 14, Ray, accompanied by so-called drug czar Jack Wozmak, who resigned in January, outlined his vision of developing a treatment center on the property. Engler recalled that Ray appeared to assume that the city would own the property.
"Scott and I were politely discouraging," Engler said. He added that they explained a substance abuse treatment center would not be the highest and best use of the property and would encounter stiff opposition from the community, particularly from residents of nearby neighborhoods on Old North Main Street and Shore Drive.
Three days later, Engler and Myers met with Connor, who explained that the department would hire a broker and put the property on the open market for six months beginning in April. 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.
"We have been waiting patiently for the process to play itself out," Engler said.
Connor said yesterday, "We're not actively listing the property."
The next day, Dec. 18, Engler emailed Ray to suggest he consider the Dube Building, last occupied by Lakes Region Community Services, which together with the Laconia 911 Center and Lakes Region Mutual Fire Aid Communications Center sits on 17 acres owned by the state tract adjacent to the Laconia State School property. Engler said that Ray replied the same day to say that, after their meeting, he had no further interest in developing a substance abuse treatment and recovery center on the property.

Facing opposition
Ray said yesterday that after meeting with Engler and Myers, "My interest was diminished. I don't want to go to a town and fight for something it doesn't want." Nevertheless, nearly five months later the project was revived by Forrester's proposal, which took city officials by surprise. Ray said that "the powers that be in the Senate said 'Let's get this thing off the table.'" He attended the hearing and spoke in support of Forrester's amendment.
Ray said "I'm open minded." Acknowledging the importance of the property to Laconia, he said that its development should only be undertaken with the cooperation and support of the city.
"I would sit with your powers that be — the mayor, City Council, Planning Board and so on — at a charette." Likewise, he said that the property is suitable for multiple uses and a treatment and recovery center need not require the entire property.
At the same time, Ray stressed the urgency of addressing substance abuse and making use of a dormant property. "Nobody has a solution," he said. "This may be one."
He noted that a treatment and recovery center on the site would neither affect any residential neighborhoods nor generate excessive traffic.
"It's what's best for everybody, including the city," he said. "I want to continue the conversation with the city of Laconia."

Status of sale
Forrester, who followed the city's interest in the property for some time, said that she was not aware that it was still contemplating acquiring the tract until Engler spoke to the Senate Finance Committee this week.
"From our perspective," she said, "nothing was happening with the property."
Engler, referring to the failure of the state to proceed with the sale of the property, said "We're not the ones slowing the process down. We're not driving the bus. They are." Dismissing suggestions that the property has lain fallow for the failure of the city to take the initiative, he said "It has been premature because the opportunity to acquire it has not been offered to us. No price has been set."
Meanwhile, Charles Bradley, a former city councilor, will present a draft resolution to the City Council alleging that Ray and Forrester "conspired to draft a midnight amendment ... to allow a drug and rehabilitation center at the Laconia State School" and directing the city manager to inform of the governor, president of the Senate and Speaker of the House of the circumstances and the city's opposition to to a substance abuse treatment center on the Laconia State School property.
Furthermore, referring to the investment of Forrester's husband, Keith, in the Hooksett Welcome Center, developed by Ray and Rusty McLear, Bradley charges that because of "her husband's business relationship with Mr. Ray," Forrester has a "definite conflict of interest." The resolution would direct the city manager to file a complaint with the Legislative Ethics Commitee.
Finally, Bradley would have the mayor, city manager and Belknap Economic Development Council propose a marketing plan for the Laconia State School property to state officials, which would offer the site as a tourist resort to all four- and five-star hotels in the country.
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 and an abutting 10.2-acre parcel for $2.16 million. The state did not respond to the offer, which was withdrawn following an environmental assessment of the property.The property has been on the open market ever since without fetching a single offer.

LRGHealth names CEO - Kevin Donovan to lead Lakes Region health care group as of next month

Kevin Donovan - LRGH CEO 2016


LACONIA — A week after the annual meeting of LRGHealthcare, the Board of Trustees announced yesterday that Kevin W. Donovan has been appointed president and chief executive officer, succeeding Seth Warren, who resigned suddenly in March.

Since 2010, Donovan, who lives in New London, New Hampshire, has served as president and chief executive officer of Mt. Ascutney Hospital and Health Center in Windsor, Vermont. He will begin work at LRGHealthcare in the middle of next month.

During the search culminating in the appointment of Warren last October, providers, administrators and trustees tapped Donovan as their second choice. In reply to a question posed at the annual meeting last week, Scott Clarenbach, the chairman of the board said that negotiations were underway with one of the two finalists and indicated an announcement would soon be forthcoming. In a prepared statement, Carenbach said yesterday, "I was confident in our decision as a board to explore the opportunity with Kevin after Seth's resignation."

Donovan, whose family includes medical clinicians and hospital administrators, has worked in healthcare since the 1990s. Before joining Mt. Ascutney Hospital and Health Center, he served as a senior vice president at the Elliot Health System in Manchester, director at the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, as well as an administrator of hospitals and physician practices in Massachusetts.

In a prepared statement, Donovan said, "I've been working towards a position such as the president and chief executive officer of LRGHealthcare for as long as I can remember. It has always been my goal to lead a full-service, community-focused hospital and health system like those I grew up around." He added that the position at LRGHealthcare represents an opportunity to achieve his professional goals and remain in New Hampshire, where he has raised four children for 17 years.

Donovan has held positions with a number of professional and civic organizations and is president-elect of the Northern New England Association of Healthcare Executives, a board member of the Vermont Association of Hospitals and Health Systems, a member of the American Hospital Association Small and Rural Governing Council and the Vermont Regent to the American College of Health Care Executives.

"Vermont Biz" reported that during Donovan's tenure at Mt. Ascutney Hospital he presided over "a hospital that was undergoing significant change and renewal. A major capital campaign led to facility upgrades and the opening of a new Rehabilitation Center." Donovan also oversaw adjustments to new regulatory challenges and created major community health outreach programs. Most recently Donovan worked to establish a successful affiliation with Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center.

"Kevin," said Clarenbach, will be a leader who will be seen in our hallways as well as a visible member of our community."

Belknap House work progressing, volunteers sought to fix up shelter


LACONIA — Work has been underway for several weeks now on the Belknap House, a former office building on Court Street which is being converted into a shelter for homeless families during the winter months and will serve as a hostel for visitors during the summer.
Colleen Garrity, president of the Belknap House board of directors, says that the home will provide a safe shelter for homeless families from Belknap County during the coldest months of the year: mid-October through mid-May. It will provide space for five or six families during that time and will be able to accommodate as many as 19 people while used as a hostel.
Currently the Carey House, operated by the Salvation Army, is the only shelter for homeless families in the Lakes Region, but it has capacity for only three families, leaving scant options for the rest, who are often directed to Concord.
Garrity and Belknap House directors Alfred Columb, treasurer, and Robert Dingman and Don House provided a tour of the facility yesterday to show the progress of the renovation project as workers struggled to remove the 500-pound radiators from the old heating system, which is being replaced. It is expected that the work will be completed by Oct. 1.
They said that volunteers, local religious and community organizations, and area businesses have provided the needed labor, in-kind donations, and monetary support for many fundraising events to get the project underway. In February, Belknap House completed a $25,000 matching fundraiser campaign which allowed it to match a $25,000 gift from an anonymous donor.
The purchase was completed on April 5, thanks to donations from the community and a loan through the Franklin Savings Bank, for the $250,0000 project.
Local architect Sonya Misiaszek of the Misiaszek Turpin architectural firm, provided the drawings for the ADA-compliant plans, including entrances and exits, bedrooms, bathrooms with showers and tubs, and a renovated kitchen. A new sprinkler system will be installed for fire safety compliance.
The renovated building will have a reception area as well as a common area for residents and office space for an executive director, who will be the only paid employee of Belknap House, which will rely on volunteers to help provide needed services.
The Laconia Zoning Board of Adjustment recently approved a special exception for the property, which was was required since neither a shelter nor a hostel is a permitted use in the commercial district where the building is located.
The ZBA attached three conditions to its decision. The property must be screened from abutting properties, Temple B'nai Israel to the west and a residence on Pearl Street to the south, by either fencing or shrubbery. Families referred to the shelter by the welfare directors of towns in the county would remain domiciled in those towns, which would be responsible for providing any public assistance and services to them as well as schooling their children. Finally, the shelter will be open only to families referred to it by welfare directors in Belknap County.
With renovations underway, more volunteers are being sought to help complete the renovations and room sponsors are also being sought.
Those with questions about volunteering or donations, may email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..
The next large Belknap House fundraiser will be the second annual Belknap House Golf Tournament on Aug. 22 at Lochmere Country Club in Tilton.

05-05 belknap house

Work is underway on the Belknap House, a former office building on Court Street which will become a shelter for homeless families during the winter months and a hostel during the summer months. Colleen Garrity, president of the Belknap House board of directors, and directors Alfred Columb, Don House and Robert Dingman, say that volunteers are being sought to help with the renovations. (Roger Amsden photo for the Laconia Daily Sun)