Wolfeboro Year in Review 2009


December 31, 2009
[Editor's Note: This is the first part of a two-part review of 2009 events in Wolfeboro.

The second part will appear next week.]

WOLFEBORO — The year 2009 was a remarkable year for crime in Wolfeboro. The brutal murder of Carpenter School nurse Stacey Burns on Mother's Day, May 11, shocked the town. A candlelight vigil was held at the First Congregational Church on May 14 and the funeral at St. Katharine Drexel Church in Alton on May 15 drew more than 700 mourners. The case remained unsolved at year end.

Burns' husband Ed Burns was denied a restraining order against her former boyfriend Jim Vittum on June 10. State and local police were also called to the Burns home on North Main Street on Oct. 28 due to an unspecified complaint and Jamie Vittum, Jim Vittum's ex-wife was asked to testify before a grand jury on Nov. 13.

Two other crimes involving longtime Wolfeboro residents also made the news. The first was the arrest on March 27 of Jim Lowry, a former police commissioner and current supervisor of the checklist, who was arrested on I-80 in Illinois in his pickup truck carrying 900 pounds of marijuana in 20 duffel bags. He was released on $50,000 cash bail. His attorney's filed a motion to suppress evidence that was denied on July 21 and then an appeal of that decision that was also denied on Dec. 15.

The second was the arrest on Sept. 19 in Jacksonville, N.C. of Cody Richardson, for the murder of his wife, Jessy Lauer Richardson, 21, a 2006 Kingswood graduate.

Barbara Ouellette was indicted for embezzlement of $118,000 from Brewster Academy on June 5. Wolfeboro police were also involved with two notable Carroll County Drug Task Force arrests, of David Wentworth in Wolfeboro on May 19 and Ross Hardman in Brookfield on Dec. 15.

For the second year, the questions about what to do about substandard town offices and the fate of Brewster Memorial Hall, the current site of town offices, was the dominant topic of discussion in Wolfeboro.

However, two new topics emerged to fuel often heated debate. The first was the Harriman Hill workforce housing project proposed by the Eastern Lakes Region Housing Coalition (ELRHC), and the second was the town's Historic District Commission (HDC).

Town offices and Brewster Hall

The year began with a heated discussion of the results of a 1,199-respondent survey on town office options conducted by the UNH Survey Center and paid for by the Town Office Citizen's Action Group (TOCAG). That survey showed that 54 percent favored purchasing the former Community Bank building on Varney Road as a first or second choice, with a new office building on Lehner Street was next at 40 percent. A reduced scale renovation of Brewster Hall and interim repairs to that building were favored by 30 percent and 26 percent respectively.

On the March ballot voters were offered three choices: interim repairs to Brewster Hall for $524,000, a $75,000 survey of the proposed Lehner Street site, and an $870,000 petitioned warrant article submitted by TOCAG to purchase the Varney Street building and additional land as Phase I of a $2.1 million proposal. All three articles were defeated: the interim repairs came closest to approval with 52.7 percent approving (vs. the 60 percent needed to bond the project); the Varney Road proposal drew only a 38 percent favorable vote; and the Lehner Street study got only a 34.9 percent approval.

Following this result, TOCAG's Bob Lemaire proposed that all interested parties sit down and work out a single proposal for town offices that would win voter approval in 2010. Selectman Chairman Dave Senecal agreed a single proposal made sense and urged Lemaire to meet with the Friends of Wolfeboro Town Hall to see what could be done.

Lemaire did meet with the Friends, who then explored other, less expensive approaches to renovating Brewster Hall.

All was quiet until architect Richard O'Donnell, a member of the Friends, approached selectmen on July 22 with a conceptual proposal to use the decommissioned Municipal Electric building on Lehner Street for temporary offices for staff currently in the main Brewster Hall building and then possibly as permanent offices for Public Works and Planning staff currently in the Brewster Hall Annex. O'Donnell's proposal was part of a plan to phase the renovation of Brewster Hall and spread the cost over several years.

At the same meeting, town staff proposed to selectmen that a professional consultant be hired to develop a renovation plan for Brewster Hall that would address the code and energy issues with the building for a 2010 vote. That would be accompanied by a proposal for a seven-step plan to involve the community in planning a future solution for town offices. Town Manager Dave Owen said he had identified $50,000 in the budget that could be used to hire the consultant.

At the next meeting, selectmen passed on hiring a consultant and instead voted to restore the staff bathroom on the main floor of the building so that staff would not have to go into the basement and to have the air quality tested in the basement and working areas. Senecal and Selectman Marge Webster indicated an interest in exploring an expansion of O'Donnell's plan for the electric building that could provide 15,000 square feet of space.

Silence fell again on the subject until Nov. 4 when, fresh from the triumph of Brewster Hall being named to the 2009 "Seven to Save" list by the N.H. Preservation Alliance, the Friends introduced a new, much less expensive plan for renovating the building. Architect John Grosvenor of Newport Collaborative Architects presented conceptual drawings of a new plan that simplifies reconstruction of the main floor of the building and, rather than try to convert the basement into working space, focuses on converting part of the auditorium space on the second floor to a third floor of offices at a cost, based on his firm's experience with old building conversions, of between $3.1 and $3.5 million (vs. the $6.7 million that McGinley Kalsow proposed in 2008) for roughly the same amount of space. The Friends said they did not intend to propose this plan for 2010.

There was no response to this proposal, but on Nov. 18 Senecal and Webster introduced Peter Tennant of Tennant/Wallace Architects, who presented a conceptual plan for a new three-story building on Lehner Street that would incorporate the electric building and provide more than 20,000 square feet for an estimated $4.5 million.

A work session on Nov. 23 did not lead to a discussion of the competing proposals but did result in the board tabling a $110,000 warrant article prepared by town staff to make critical repairs to Brewster Hall and fix pressing building code and Americans with Disabilities Act problems. Because Senecal was absent from the next regular meeting on Dec. 2, discussion was deferred to a special meeting on Dec. 7. At that meeting the board voted 3-2 to place the $4.5 million Lehner Street proposal on the warrant and to cut the warrant article for Brewster Hall repairs from $110,000 to $50,000. Senecal and Webster were joined by Selectman Kristi Ginter in the majority with Selectmen Linda Murray and Sarah Silk in the minority. The audience at the Dec. 7 special meeting was very critical of both decisions.

At press time the Friends were preparing a petitioned warrant article to restore the funding for Brewster Hall repairs to $110,000 (see letter from Joyce Davis on page 10 of this issue). There will be public hearings scheduled on all warrant articles.

[Next Week: The Harriman Hill and the Historic District Commission controversies, plus a review of the major building, road and infrastructure projects completed and people in the news in 2009.]

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