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Voters asked to keep Hebron Academy plan on track

By Thomas P. Caldwell

HEBRON — Voters who have set aside $100,000 each year for the last three years will be asked to do so again at the March 10 Town Meeting, bringing the total amount in the capital reserve fund for town office expansion to $400,000.
The Town Offices Expansion and Refurbishment Committee made a presentation on Feb. 17 to bring everyone up to date on their progress in deciding what to do with the former Hebron Academy that now serves as the selectmen's office. Presenting most of the information was Norman Larson of Christopher P. Williams Architects, hired last year to begin developing architectural plans for the building.
Larson explained that he has been involved with the Academy building since 2010, when the town received a grant from the N.H. Preservation Alliance to do an architectural and structural analysis of the building. That study found the building to be sound, but in need of some restoration work because of changes that had been made to the structure over the years, as well as deterioration of the floor joists from moisture. The building, built in 1839, had most recently served as an elementary school until the Newfound Area School District closed it in 1999, and playground equipment remains on the site today.
The historic preservation study came about after voters rejected a request for funding to design a new town hall, as recommended by an earlier committee, at the 2010 Town Meeting. With that plan shot down, the town was trying to decide what to do about the town offices that were spread through several buildings surrounding the Hebron Common, and the Hebron Academy appeared to be a good solution.
A grant from Plan N.H. allowed the town hold a charette in 2011 in which residents took at look at all the buildings around the common. Recommendations coming out of that effort included building an annex on the Hebron Academy and putting in a new foundation, with renovations and new foundations also being recommended for the library building and the town clerk/tax collector's office.
"Everyone wanted change," said Larson, "but they didn't want to see it."
It was after the charette that the Town Offices Expansion and Refurbishment Committee formed to see how those recommendations could be implemented, starting with the Hebron Academy building. Committee Chair Roger Larochelle said they agreed that active use of the building was the best way to preserve it, that they could consolidate town functions and still address the various needs of the employees, and that it is a prudent use of tax dollars to move forward with their plans.
Larson explained the space needs process, in which they calculated how much room each desk, filing cabinet, and counter would need, as well as storage and mechanical needs. The conclusion was that they would need to add 1,800-square-feet to the current 2,400-square-foot building to accommodate all town functions except for the library, which would remain in a separate building.
After looking at three options, for one- and two-story arrangements and an addition at the back of the building, the committee finally agreed on a fourth option which has all town business being conducted on one floor, with meeting space upstairs and storage in the basement. While there are preliminary sketches of what the space would look like, the next step will be to develop specifications so the town can put the project out to bid and get realistic estimates of how much it would cost to do the renovations and expansion.
At Town Meeting, voters will be asked to confirm the direction the committee is taking.
Most of those attending the presentation on Feb. 17 agreed with the plans to preserve the building by putting it in active use, but some expressed disappointment that it did not address all of the needs identified during the charter.
"I'm all in favor of preserving the building," said Ron Collins, "but it doesn't go after the other problems. Down the road, you will be asking for something else. With this plan, we don't get a lot for what we're spending."
Don Franklin, who had served on the town hall committee, said the cost of renovating a building is more than building a new one, and he said he still supported a new town hall. He suggested that the Hebron Academy would be better utilized as a library, which still would achieve active use without the need for extensive renovations.
"We came up a design with 3,000-square-feet on one level, and that was going to cost $750,000 with new construction," he said. "Renovations will be more expensive."
Some attending the meeting had practical suggestions. Bruce Barnard suggested digging a new well, and he noted that the turnbuckle in the roof is undersized and that it might be wise to replace it.
The consensus of the meeting was that consolidating all of the main town functions in the building would make town government more efficient, while the renovations would make the Hebron Academy more energy-efficient as well.
Town Meeting will determine whether Hebron voters agree that moving forward with those plans is the best use of their tax dollars.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 25 February 2015 11:11

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Campton team & WInniquam's Megan Fife shine at Mathcounts meet

PLYMOUTH — The team from Campton Elementary coached by Dave Hamnett captured first place in the regional Mathcounts competition for elementary and middle school-age students held at Plymouth State University on February 7. Megan Fife of Winnisquam Regional Middle School was the individual champion.

55 students from 10 different schools participated in the regional event. The top three teams qualified to complete in the state championship competition on March 7. The team from Belmont Middle School coached by Carol Gadomski came in second, followed by the team from Laconia Middle School coached by Bob Clay.

Two Campton students — Roger Babin and Iyan Siwik — finished right behind Megan Fife in the individual competition. Joey Spinale from Belmont was fourth. All will compete in the state event, as will three other students who placed individually in the top ten, though their teams finished lower than third. That list includes Ethan Whitman and Jacelyn Laclair of Plymouth Elementary and Sophie Leggett of Gilford Middle School.

 

Last Updated on Wednesday, 25 February 2015 01:48

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Myers gives council preview of 2016 budget picture

LACONIA — City Manager Scott Myers offered what he called "a 30,000 foot" view of the 2015-2016 city budget, which he will present next month, when the City Council met this week, cautioning that the preparation of the plan is still in the early stages.

The annual allowable increase in the total amount of money raised locally by property taxes is limited by the city's tax cap. The cap limits the annual increase in total amount raised by property taxes to the rate of inflation, measured by the Consumer Price Index — Urban (CPIU), for the prior calendar year, plus an additional amount tied to the value of new construction, which is calculated by multiplying the value of building permits less the value of demolition permits issued between April 1 and March 31 by the prior year's property tax rate.

With annual increase in the CPI of 1.6-percent and new construction estimated at $29 million, Myers calculated that the amount to be raised by property taxes to fund municipal expenditures could be increased by approximately $500,000. Wages, including cost-of-living adjustments and step increases required by collective bargaining agreements, he said will add some $300,000 to the budget. Increased contributions to the New Hampshire Retirement System, he projected would add another $187,000.

Myers said that the city has been assured that the increase in health insurance rates will not exceed 3.4 percent, which would be offset by changes in enrollment and employee contributions, keeping total expenditures flat.

Ideally, Myers said that investment in municipal infrastructure, particularly street repairs, will increase by $400,000. He said that capital outlays will also include expenditures for sidewalks, drainage and bridge maintenance.

Myers expected revenues from sources other than property taxes to increase moderately, with returns from motor vehicles setting the pace with projected growth of $125,000. Fees and licensing, along with distribution of the Rooms and Meals Tax and Highway Block Grants from the state, he anticipated to rise more modestly.

Through seven months of the current fiscal year, Myers said that the budget is 58 percent expended while expenditures are tracking slightly under budgeted appropriations and revenues are running slightly above estimates. He anticipates that with unspent appropriations and unanticipated revenue the city will end the year with a surplus of several hundred thousand dollars.

Councilors have been asked to provide Myers will their budget goals when they next meet on March 9.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 25 February 2015 01:45

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Council declares Lakeport Landing lot to be surplus property but it's only a first step

LACONIA — Following a public hearing this week the City Council voted unanimously to declare the strip of land along Union Avenue owned by the city and leased to Lakeport Landing marina surplus property and to weigh the future of the property at a workshop beginning at 6:30 p.m., prior to its next regularly scheduled meeting on March 9.

The property, 0.81 acre, lies between the roadway and railway and runs from Elm Street northward to halfway between Harrison Street and Walnut Street. The property was leased to Lakeport Landing in 1985 for 10 years with two 10-year renewal periods. The lease will expire on November 1, 2015 and cannot be extended further. In 1987 Lakeport Landing constructed a 9,840-square-foot building on the lot. The property has an assessed value of $389,600 of which the building represents $263,200. At the termination of the lease all buildings and improvements on the lot become the property of the city.

Last month Erica Blizard, who succeeded her father Paul as owner and operator of Lakeport Landing, offered to purchase the property for $331,400. Earlier she explained that the lot houses the firm's offices and showrooms and while the marina owns three other buildings on lower Paugus Bay, it could not offer boat sales at the location without the property.

The council has been advised that it cannot negotiate exclusively with Blizzard, but should it chose to sell or lease the property do so through an open, competitive process. However, City Manager Scott Myers told the councilors that the process need not take the form of auction that would lease or sell the property to the highest bidder. Instead, he suggested the city could set criteria for the development and use of the property so long as they applied equitably to all potential bidders and the responses to the criteria could then be weighed alongside the offering prices in awarding the bid.

Alternatively the council could do nothing, in which case ownership of the land and building would revert to the city when the lease expires. the council has considered subdividing the property and selling the portion where the building stands while retaining the remainder as a parking lot.

Attorney Rod Dyer, representing Blizzard, urged the council to declare the property surplus, explaining that it would then have the opportunity, but not the obligation, to lease or sell it. He said that no public need for the lot had been demonstrated in the past 30 years. Moreover, he claimed that access to the lot was not assured since the Bureau of Rails, a division of the New Hampshire Department of Transportation, no longer grants easements to cross the tracks, but instead issues licenses that can be revoked.

Attorney Suzanne McKenna, representing neighboring Irwin Marine, asked if the property is declared surplus and offered it for lease or sale, there would be a competitive bidding process in accordance with the city ordinance (183-3), which applies to the sale of property acquired for unpaid real estate taxes.

Warren Hutchins, who said he was speaking as a private citizen and not as chairman of the Planning Board, advised the council "not to divest the land from the city inventory." He said that the future use of the adjacent lot where the former Lakeport Fire Station stands could determine the ultimate value and use of the lot. He noted that Union Avenue is a very narrow but heavily traveled roadway representing a "major safety area" and that the strip of land could be part of a solution. In addition, he said that the building at the southeast corner of Union Avenue and Clinton Street, which houses the Lakeport Opera House, is being sold, foreshadowing changes at this major intersection. With "many factors at play," Hutchins said the city should not relinquish the property.

"I have my wildcat scarf on," said Dorothy Duffy, who also asked the council to retain municipal ownership of the property, primarily to provide parking for local businesses. "Parking has always been an issue in Lakeport," she said, adding that the lot would provide addition spaces without demolishing more historic buildings.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 25 February 2015 01:39

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