Seven Lakes Region projects to benefit from grants
By MICHAEL KITCH, LACONIA DAILY SUN
CONCORD — Seven projects in the Lakes Region, including the restoration of the Colonial Theatre in Laconia and expansion of the Page Pond Community Forest in Meredith, were awarded $858,747 in matching grants by the Land and Community Heritage Program, which Thursday announced that this year it is distributing $3.5 million to 31 cities, towns and nonprofit organizations to protect and preserve historic, cultural and natural resources.
The lobby of the Legislative Office Building was filled with officials and residents of communities from one end of the state to the other, who were reminded by Gov. Maggie Hassan that their projects are "maintaining the culture that makes New Hampshire what it is and makes us what we are. Conservation," the governor continued, "is a good investment," returning $8 for every $1.
• Laconia received $500,000 toward the renovation and restoration of the Colonial Theatre, which represents the largest grant the program has awarded since it began 16 years ago. Justin Slattery, executive director of the Belknap Economic Development Council, said that the grant is an essential element of the approximately $14.5 million financial package needed to renovate, restore and reopen the theater. He explained that since proceeds from two of the major components of the package, the sale of New Markets and Historic tax credits, represent a percentage of the amount raised from other sources, the LCHIP grant is especially significant.
This is the second time LCHIP has supported restoration of the theater. In 2011, when a fundraising effort was begun to purchase the property LCHIP contributed $150,000 toward acquiring it. But, the buyer and owner failed to negotiate a price and the transaction never closed. Nevertheless, Slattery said that the LCHIP has taken a strong interest in restoring theater and worked closely with the Belknap Economic Development Council to ensure the success of the project.
• The Belknap Mill Society received a grant of $23,217 to undertake a historic building assessment of another landmark in downtown Laconia — the oldest unaltered brick textile mill in the country. The assessment will identify the immediate and future steps required to ensure the future of the mill as well as consider the programmatic objectives of the Belknap Mill Society. Allison Ambrose, president of the society, said that "the assessment is an important step in establishing the Belknap Mill Society as a key contributor to Laconia's revitalization," and added that "the board of directors is unified in its commitment to expand the Belknap Mill's engagement as an educational resource for students of all ages." In particular, she said that the society is seeking to provide STEAM-based programming in science, technology, engineering, arts and math.
• LCHIP awarded $250,000 to the Trust for Public Land, which in partnership with the Conservation Commission is seeking to add approximately 200 acres to the Page Pond Community Forest, which sprawls over 562 acres on Meredith Neck. The property consists of two tracts, one of 117.5 acres and another of 84.5 acres on the east side of Barnard Ridge Road south to its junction with Pleasant Street. It includes 2,500 feet of frontage on the west side of Page Pond and 1,500 feet of frontage along Page Brook while another 1,577 feet abuts land protected by a conservation easement. The property contains 35 acres of prime wetland as well as 3,850 feet along an important tributary to Meredith Bay. A part of the property was long a working farm, laden with rich agricultural soils, while remains of grist mill testify to historical and cultural significance of the land to the town of Meredith.
Mark Billings, chairman of the Conservation Commission, estimates it will cost $1,125,000 to acquire the property, including the cost of services and fees, which will be met by a mix of conservation funds and grants supplemented by a private contributions and a town appropriation.
• The town of Center Harbor will apply its grant of $21,280 to completing the rehabilitation of the Town House, built at the geographic center of the community in 1844. which served as a town hall, polling station, school house and meeting place for more than a century. After standing vacant for some years, the Town House has earned a place State Register of Historic Places and undergone some rehabilitation and restoration. With the LCHIP grant the will complete the exterior rehabilitation of the landmark, including both cosmetic and structural repairs, as all as conduct an archaeological study.
• The Gilmanton School District was awarded $17,250 which will be applied to repair and restore the Kelley Corner Schoolhouse #1, built in 1778 as the first of 18 schoolhouses dotted about the town and the only one of them still standing. The school operated until 1940, and since 1949 has been leased by the school district to the Lower Gilmanton Community Club to host community events. When the club withered the schoolhouse fell dark. But, in the last decade a revived Lower Gilmanton Community Club has secured the schoolhouse a place on the National Register of Historic Places and undertaken its renovation. The grant will contribute to funding repairs, including restoration of the chimney to enable the building to be heated with a wood stove.
• The Belmont Public Library, built in 1927 as a gift from George and Walter Duffy, brothers who owned the Belmont Hosiery Company, received $7,000 toward funding a study of the institution. The colonial revival building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1985. Small in dimension and simple in design, the one story, gable roofed building is considered among the finest examples of the popular colonial revival architecture constructed in the state after the First World War and easily the best preserved of eight others of the same style.
• Finally, Moultonborough received a $40,000 grant, which the town will apply toward purchasing a 37 acre parcel known as the Lee's Pond Preserve or Moultonborough Falls Conservation Area. The land fronts on Lee's Pond , the Red Hill River and NH Route 25 and was part of the village of Moultonborough Falls that thrived in the 19th century. The acquisition will extend the Red River Conservation Area, a continuous undeveloped corridor stretching from Sandwich to Lake Winnpesaukee. The buffer alongside the river and densely forested upland contribute to mitigating the impact of storm water run-off into Moultonborough Bay Inlet and so sustaining water quality in Lake Winnipesaukee.
Since LCHIP was established in 200 it has awarded $39 million in 372 matching grants to 149 communities, which have leveraged $244 million in funds from other sources to protect nearly 200 historic structures and conserve 283,000 acres for agricultural production, timber management, wildlife habitat, recreation and protecting water quality.
With matching grants for both the Colonial Theatre and Belknap Mill, the city fared well when the Land and Community Heritage Foundation announced its awards for 2016 this week. Those on hand to accept the awards were, from left, Peter Karagianis Jr. of the Belknap Mill Society; Doug Cole, chairman of LCHIP; Gov. Maggie Hassan; Randy Eifert, president of the Belknap Economic Development Council; Allison Ambrose, president of the Belknap Mill Society; Dijit Taylor, executive director of LCHIP; Executive Councilor Joe Kenney; Justin Slattery, executive director of the Belknap Economic Development Council; and Ed Engler, mayor of Laconia. (Michael Kitch/Laconia Daily Sun)