Legislation aims to create Pease-style redevelopment commission for Laconia State School property

Morse-sponsored measure shoots for ‘self-sustaining economic development'
Senate President Chuck Morse said his proposal stemmed from discussions with George Bald and Bob Cheney – both among the chief architects of the redevelopment of Pease Air Force Base into the Pease International Tradeport – among others.

NH Senate President Chuck Morse, R-Salem, on Tuesday introduced legislation establishing the Lakeshore Redevelopment Planning Commission as the first step toward developing the former Laconia State School property.

The goal of Morse’s measure is aimed at boosting “self-sustaining economic development and job creation for the benefit of the city of Laconia, Belknap County and the state.”

Between 1903 and 1991, the property housed the Laconia State School for developmentally disabled individuals, and then served as a medium security prison until 2009. Since then, the state has sought to sell the property without success. In 2011 the state appraised the property for $2.16 million.

The entire property consists of five parcels, which together cover approximately 245 acres. The state has retained one parcel and leased three others to the city, leaving the main campus of 200 acres overlooking two lakes — Opechee to the east and Winnisquam to the west — without access to either.

There are 31 buildings on the campus – including dormitories, classrooms, offices, shops, garages and sheds for pigs and poultry – built between 1905 and 1975. Half are described as in good condition and half in need of repair.

In addition, a preliminary environmental assessment indicated there are a number of environmental hazards in the buildings and on the property, among them lead paint, asbestos, PCBs and petroleum products. The NH Department of Environmental Services estimates the cost of thoroughly assessing the risks at more than $600,000 and estimates for remediation run between $2 million and $3 million.

Support expected

Morse told the Senate Finance Committee that his proposal grew out of discussions with George Bald and Bob Cheney, both among the chief architects of the redevelopment of Pease Air Force Base into the Pease International Tradeport, as well as conversations with the Laconia Mayor Ed Engler and City Manager Scott Myers.

“Laconia is in on this,” Morse said. “They want to work on this.”

At the same time, Morse said he expects support from Gov. Chris Sununu and Rep. Gene Chandler, R-Bartlett, who in the past has resisted selling the property.

The commission would consist of eight members: four, including one from Belknap County, with experience in real estate development or business, appointed by the governor and Executive Council; two appointed by the city of Laconia; and one appointed by the House speaker and another by the Senate president.

Engler said that he was pleased with the composition of the commission, which offered local representation while drawing experience and expertise from elsewhere in the state. 

The commission would be charged with evaluating the condition of the property with an eye to its potential development and preparing a plan  for its redevelopment, which could include a change of ownership of the property. The plan should identify opportunities for integrating development of the property with Ahern State Park, which abuts it.

In addition, the commission would explore different institutional arrangements for pursuing redevelopment of the property, including a state authority akin to the Pease Development Authority. The commission would get an operating budget of $365,000 and be required to file an initial report by Sept. 1, 2018.

Morse said that he expected the commission to come up with recommendations for infrastructure at the site to be considered in the state’s 2020-21 capital budget.

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