Phase 1

A schematic shows the retail and office space which would be among the uses in the initial phase of development on the old Laconia State School property. On Tuesday the state panel in charge of the project voted to apply for a grant to help pay for sewer and road work in the area. (Courtesy graphic)

LACONIA — The panel that is working to develop the former Laconia State School property on Tuesday approved applying for a crucial grant, after it received a waiver in order to qualify.

The decision, which passed on a 6-0 vote, came during a meeting by the Lakeshore Redevelopment Commission and authorized the Lakes Region Planning Commission to submit the grant application by June 1.

The money is being sought from the Northern Border Regional Commission created to help economic development within hard-pressed areas of New Hampshire and three other northeast states which border Canada.

The commission was able to obtain a waiver because, although Laconia proper was not among the communities which qualified for such a grant, the economic benefit from redeveloping the old Laconia State School complex would provide an economic boost to other nearby communities which are eligible for such funding.

Economic consultant Russ Thibeault estimated that the initial phase of the project would create 150 jobs connected directly or indirectly to the development, account for $7 million in public-private investment, and result in $160,000 in annual property tax revenue to Laconia.

The grant, which could be as large as $1 million, will be used for infrastructure work on land adjacent to North Main Street (Route 106), that planners are proposing for the first phase of development.

That work would consist of improvements to an existing sewer line, the construction of an initial 500-foot portion of what eventually be a main road through the redevelopment area, as well as installation of two auxiliary roads, and a multi-use path.

The improvements will be for what the commission envisions will be the development of a retail and office complex which would include a restaurant and a food production and processing facility.

Money from the grant would be matched by funds authorized under a bill currently before the Legislature which would create a redevelopment authority with the ability to raise funds through the issuing of bonds.

Jeff Hayes, executive director of the Lakes Region Planning Commission, said it was “very likely” the Lakeshore Commission would be awarded the grant.

Mindful of the impact of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, commission Chairman George Bald said, “These are uncertain times, but we need to go flat out. We are priming the pump. Once we get this (infrastructure) work done, getting financing further on will work out.”

While the master plan contains specific ideas of what uses will be in the first area to be developed, Commissioner Gino Baroni cautioned that the commission will need to be flexible about what Phase I will ultimately look like.

In other business, the commission approved a contract of up to $5,000 to do an environmental impact study on seasonal pools on the 235-acre site.

It also approved a $25,000 contract with the engineering and consulting firm Nobis Engineering to assess the presence of soil contaminated by hazardous materials, and then safely remove it from the site and dispose of the material.

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