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Council committee gives first green light to expansion/renovation of Central Fire Station

LACONIA — The Land and Buildings Committee last night unanimously agreed to recommend the City Council appropriate $67,400 to fund a contract with Warrenstreet Architects, Inc. of Concord to prepare a schematic design and cost estimate of the expansion and renovation of the Central Fire Station.

The meeting was convened after Fire Chief Ken Erickson and Deputy Chief Charlie Roffo presented a conceptual plan for the project to the council in February, which differed from the original proposal presented in 2008. Councilors Henry Lipman (Ward 3) and Bob Hamel (Ward (3) were surprised to discover the plan had changed and requested an explanation.

Roffo reminded the committee that the department began planning in 2006 and, after working with several architectural firms and different designs, settled on a conceptual plan in 2008. However, he said that as time passed "we became concerned at the cost, which was approaching $5 million." In particular, he said that too much was being spent on the apparatus bay and converting the mezzanine and third floor to administrative space. "We asked can we get the programs we want incorporated into the design and hold down the cost of the project," he said.

The revised plan presented to the council in February and the committee last night includes the renovation of 13,135-square-feet of the existing station to serve as an apparatus bay and training area and the construction of a two-story, 12,000-square-foot addition to house the administrative offices, emergency operations center and dormitory. He estimated the cost of the project at $4,187,000.

Roffo said that because the department has reduced the size of its fleet and no longer houses a mechanic, the station, with the addition of one bay at the south end of the building where a driveway now leads to the rear parking lot, will accommodate all its apparatus. The new addition would have public access and parking off Tremont Street, eliminating vehicle and pedestrian traffic from the apron in front of the apparatus bay.
City Manager Scott Myers has included a borrowing of $4.1 million for the project in his 2014-2015 budget. However, the estimate is based on a conceptual plan and a schematic design is required for a more accurate estimate of the construction cost.
Jonathan Halle of Warrenstreet told the committee that for the $67,400 an estimate within 5 or 10 percent could be prepared. If the City Council chooses to proceed with the project, the firm would prepare the construction documents required to put the work to bid for another $101,500. He said that the work could be bid later this year and construction begun as early as October. Alternatively the project could be undertaken in 2015 and completed in one construction season.
Myers assured the committee that the city could manage the principal and interest payments on a borrowing of $4.1 million at 4.25 percent with a 20-year term within its self-imposed limit of $3.282 million, but for four years. But, he suggested if the limit on annual debt service were annually adjusted for inflation at a conservative rate of 1.5-percent, it would never be exceeded.

Last Updated on Friday, 11 April 2014 01:16

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Historical Society & Heritage Commission planning impromptu 100th birthday party for Colonial Theater

LACONIA — The Heritage Commission and Laconia Historical and Museum Society will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the opening of the Colonial Theater beneath the marquee on Sunday, April 13, from noon until 2 p.m.

Dorothy Duffy, who is among the organizers of the event, explained that the theater was built in 1913, but Benjamin Piscopo, its owner, was superstitious and delayed the opening until April 13, 1914.

The celebration is open to all, who are invited to "just come and be one of the living ghosts from the happy past" by sharing remembrances, photographs and mementos of the theater, enjoying light refreshments and singing "Happy Birthday."

The theater, owned by Pat Baldi, who also owns the Weirs Beach Drive-In, has been dark since 2002. In 2011 the Cultural Arts Center of Lakes Region, a non-profit corporation formed at the initiative of the city, mounted a major effort to acquire the theater that foundered when the appraised value fell far short of the asking price.

Last Updated on Friday, 11 April 2014 01:08

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Heritage group believes it has few months to find private developer to move Hathaway House

LACONIA — With time running short to spare the Hathaway House from the wrecking ball, the Heritage Commission last evening decided to seek a private developer or investor willing to take ownership of the building and move it to another location in the city.
Pam Clark, who chairs the commission, explained that Greg Nolan of Cafua Management Company, the owner of the building at 106 Union Ave., has assured city officials that "the building is ours if we can move it." She said that Nolan, who now has a permit to demolish the historic mansion in hand, has granted the commission "a reasonable window of opportunity" to relocate the building, which she understands to be "three or four months."

The home was built in 1870 by Samuel C. Clark, a prominent attorney in Lakeport, then known as Lake Village.

Last month Maggie Stier of the New Hampshire Preservation Alliance and Steve Bedard of Bedard Preservation of Gilmanton estimated the cost of moving and renovating the building would fall between $563,400 and $751,200, adding "our estimate for a building of this age, type and condition would be at the higher end of that range." The estimates excluded the cost of a new lot for the building.
Stier and Bedard concluded that "in our estimation, savings this building by moving it to a new location and investing more than half a million dollars in its rehabilitation is not a viable proposition at this time."
Meanwhile, Sarah Anderson, the Gilford teenager who led the effort to reconstruct the Gilford Outing Club warming hut, was not convinced. She told the commission that after speaking with the utility companies and a building mover she pegged the cost of moving the Hathaway House to a lot at 903 Union Avenue at approximately $300,000, including the price of the lot. The half-acre lot with an assessed value of $39,100 is owned by local attorney Phil Brouillard, who has offered it to the commission for $160,000.
"He is very firm about the price," said Clark, who explained that the lot would have to be excavated and a foundation poured to accommodate the building. Brouillard assured her there would be sufficient parking for 30 vehicles. Alternatively, Anderson suggested that a buyer could float the Hathaway House across Paugus Bay and relocated on a lot at South Down Shores or Long Bay.
Anderson went on to sketch a fundraising campaign to fund the project. She said that she had already spoken with a number of prospective tenants of the Hathaway House, including one who wanted to operate a museum and library on the ground floor, who would contribute to the effort.
However, Clark asked "realistically, can we raise $300,000 in the next three months" and answered "no". She said that apart from moving and relocating the building there is the issue of ownership, noting that "the city does not want to own this building."
The alternative, Clark said, is to find a developer or investor interested not only in moving and renovating the Hathaway House but also managing and maintaining the property. She proposed asking the city attorney to enter a formal agreement with Cafua that would enable to the commission to issue a "request for proposals" (RFP) offering the Hathaway House to a private party on the understanding that they would move it, restore it, preserve it and own it.
Clark proposed issuing an RFP in May with a deadline for responses in June. "If we don't get any replies," she said, "the handwriting is on the wall. When is enough going to be enough?"
Stier and Bedard doubted that a private party would undertake the project, noting that they would be dissuaded by "the gap between rehab costs and actual or future real estate value. In our estimation," they continued, "the numbers simply don't add up. Be practical and realistic," they advised. "Recognize that not everything can be saved."

 

Last Updated on Thursday, 10 April 2014 12:55

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Plymouth State U. Analysis paints bleak picture of future Belknap County economy

PLYMOUTH — In the years ahead the economy of Belknap County will be marked by an aging population, shrinking workforce, dwindling investment and slackening growth according to a study by Daniel Lee, an economist at Plymouth State University.

Dr. Lee could not be reached on Tuesday to comment on his report.

In New Hampshire, where the population is aging more rapidly than in the nation, Lee notes that the population of Belknap County is aging even faster. The median age in the county in 2010 was 44.7, compared to 37.2 in the nation and 41.1 in the state. Only Carroll County and Coos County, where the median ages were 48.3 and 46.4, had older populations. Between 2000 and 2010, those aged five and younger grew just one-percent and those aged between five and 17 shrank nine-percent while those aged 45 to 64 jumped 31 percent and those 65 and older climbed 19 percent.

Without net migration into the county, Lee projects that with this pace of aging the population of working age in Belknap County — those between 20 and 64 — will have decreased 5.8 percent by 2020 and 16.3-percent by 2030. The decline would be surpassed only by Carroll County and Coos County, where he projects the working age populations to shrink by 24.4 percent and 20 percent respectively by 2030. Moreover, Lee notes that the labor participation rate — the number of residents in the workforce — in Belknap County has dropped from 72 percent in 1998 to 64 percent in 2012, compared to a decline from 72 percent to 68 percent in the state.

Lee anticipates that the county's smaller workforce will also have a relatively low level of educational attainment. Although the 32 percent of the state's population has at least a college degree, fewer than one in four residents of Belknap County have more than high school diplomas and the gap between the state and county is widening.

Along with the size and skill of the workforce, Lee counts capital investment as the third major source of long-term economic growth. He calculates that the growth of private investment has slowed in New Hampshire during the past four decades and that investment in Belknap County has lagged the pace in the state. Between 2000 and 2010 the capital stock of the state grew 30 percent, with Grafton County and Merrimack County setting the pace at 55 percent and 39 percent respectively, while it grew 26 percent in Belknap County.

From 2000 to 2010 Lee found that productivity growth fell sharply, by more than two-thirds in the state and by more than half in the county. Although productivity growth in Belknap County of 7.3 percent barely topped the state average of 7.1 percent, it was the fourth lowest rate in the state, far behind Grafton County, which led the field at 25 percent but well ahead of Rockingham County, the tailender at 1.4 percent.

These trends were reflected in slower growth of both employment and income. Belknap County was among the five counties where employment shrank between 2000-2010, though the decline of 4 percent was less than half the 9 percent drops in Coos County and Sullivan County. Meanwhile, personal income rose 16 percent during the same period, faster than the 13 percent in the state as a whole, but far off the pace of increases of 51 percent in the previous two decades.

Lee tracked shifts in the source of income growth by measuring the contribution of different industries to increases in earnings. Between 1970 and 2000 the service and manufacturing sectors drove the economy in the county, generating about a quarter and a fifth of growth in earnings respectively. Retail trade, construction and government services accounted for approximately 1 percent apiece and finance, insurance and real estate (FIRE) and wholesale trade each less than 10 percent.

However, between 2001 and 2001 Lee calculates that government services, health care and social assistance together represented 57 percent of growth in earnings while professional and technical services accounted for another 11 percent. Retail and wholesale trade, along with the dining and hospitality sector, each contributed less than 10 percent. According to Lee, the contribution of the manufacturing sector dropped 31 percent to become "the largest drag during the past decade."

Lee concludes that the Belknap County has been buffeted by the same demographic forces weighing on the state. However, he notes that the county's economy has declined relative to other parts of the state "gradually but steadily over the past four decades," a trend he anticipates will continue.

Last Updated on Thursday, 10 April 2014 01:23

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