Wolfeboro Year in Review
A year of celebrations, achievements and new beginnings
|PUPPETS ON PARADE. For many First Night® Wolfeboro only begins when the giant puppets appear and parade down Main Street to the Town Docks. This year the weather made the annual celebration the most comfortable in recent memory, and the most fun. (Heather Terragni photo) For more photos see page A14.
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January 06, 2011WOLFEBORO — For Wolfeboro, the year 2010 was a year of celebrations, achievements and new beginnings. It was also a year that, in an economic sense, turned out better than expected.
The celebrations actually began even before the year started with the opening reception on Nov. 14, 2009, for the year-long celebration of the 250th anniversary of the naming of Wolfeboro for General James Wolfe, the British general who died winning the battle of Quebec City, the turning point for the French and Indian War on Sept. 13, 1759. The opening reception was held at the Wolfeboro Inn.
The Board of Selectmen appointed a volunteer Wolfeboro 250th Committee and in March the voters provided it with $10,000 to spend on the town's birthday party. Even before the money was received, the committee made its first appearances, in 18th century costume, in the 2009 Wolfeboro Christmas and First Night parades. The committee was a sponsor of the Smith River Canoe and Kayak Race, providing its new logo on the t-shirts. That was followed by a free Colonial Concert and Dance by the Two Fiddles, Jacqueline and Dudley Laufman, at Club 59 on June 12, and a Grand Prize-winning entry in the 2010 Fourth of July Parade. Five road signs commemorating the 250th year were designed and produced and installed on the roads leading into town.
The committee also produced a self-financed commemorative book, "Nothing finer: Wolfeboro, New Hampshire," the title coming from poet John Greenleaf Whitter's remarks on visiting Wolfeboro. Committee members Dave Bowers, author of the three-volume history of Wolfeboro, and Granite State News editor Tom Beeler, wrote the text, which was richly illustrated by color images of the town through the years. The book is still available in stores and through the Wolfeboro Historical Society. The actual cost of producing the book was paid through advertising.
The committee also worked with the Wolfeboro Area Chamber of Commerce to organize a Wolfe Hunt during the tourist season where entrants were encouraged to visit the more than 55 participating businesses to find the image of General Wolfe, Completed entries were drawn for four sets of monthly prizes and two Grand Prizes on Nov. 14 that included two nights at the Wolfeboro Inn and a week's stay at the Windrifter Resort.
The highlight of the summer celebration was a French and Indian encampment on the weekend of Aug. 20 to 22 that included cannon and musket firings, a Governor's Reception at the Pinckney Boathouse, a special Farmer's Market and trading post, and, thanks to Loren Akerman of Wells Fargo Advisors, free stagecoach rides around the Brewster campus and down South Main Street. The committee hopes this event will continue as a basis for a Wolfeboro Colonial Old Home Week.
The celebration continued with a Colonial Gala at the Wright Museum on Oct. 10 that included illustrated talks by Bowers and Beeler, based on the commemorative book, and ended with a closing reception at the Wolfeboro Inn, where General Wolfe, in the person of Wolfeboro's own Christian Boudman, read Thomas Gray's "Elegy Written in a Country Church-Yard," the poem Wolfe read before the battle and which he said he wished he had written.
The year saw two other major celebrations as Huggins Hospital formally opened its new, $52 million hospital building on May 22 and the Governor Wentworth Regional School District formally opened the Kingswood Arts Center building on Dec. 16.
The Huggins project, which was still in a final finishing stage as the year ended, represented a major vote of confidence in the 100-year-old hospital by the community, which now has a state-of-the-art facility designed to serve the heathcare needs not only of Wolfeboro but a wide area of towns from Alton to Tamworth. Although the new building was opened in May, its main entrance was not opened until December due to the need to remove the original main building to provide adequate parking and access to the new entrance. A cornerstone containing a record of the project and information of Huggins and Wolfeboro in 2010 was formally installed on Nov. 9.
The opening of the Kingswood Arts Center on Dec. 16 marked the completion of Phase I of the $67.2 million Kingswood complex renovation approved by voters in March 2009. The new facility provides a 900-seat auditorium, dedicated space for the arts (including drama and music), additional classrooms and locker rooms for athletic teams. New playing fields, replacing those displaced by the Arts Center, were completed over the summer. The new Alumni Field was formally opened on Sept. 3 and the Kingswood football team provided a welcoming victory in the opening game.
Phase II of the Kingswood project includes rebuilding and adding to the existing buildings of the middle school, high school and Region 9 Vocation Center that will continue until 2012. In January 2011 classes on the second floor of Kingswood Regional Middle School were moved temporarily to the new Arts Center to allow construction to continue during the school year.
Other physical improvements made during the year included handicap-accessibility upgrade to a number of town buildings, including the library, Public Safety Building, Pop Whalen Ice Arena and Town Hall. The renovation of the Railroad Station was also completed with a new roof and painting.
Sewer and water upgrades were completed on Union, School and Pleasant Streets and a second set of two Rapid Infiltration Basins were added to dispose of effluent after issues arose with the first three. Because of concerns about the basins, the town applied for permission to resume effluent spraying on a limited basis to avoid pushing the basins beyond practical capacity.
All of the town's major roads, except for Route 109A were repaved by the end of the year, thanks largely to stimulus funding. The town also increased the amount spent on town road upgrades.
Not all construction work done last year was forward-looking, During the summer the foundation for the proposed GreatWaters Bank and Trust at the corner of Pine and Center Streets was covered over and split-rail fencing installed. The proposed bank failed to get adequate financing and approval to start, a victim of the economic downturn.
As impressive as the improvements made during 2010 were, the town also spent the year getting ahead of future problems. Voter approved a thorough inspection of all town-owned buildings that was completed by the end of the summer. A number of major maintenance and safety issues were documented and taken care of and a long-term plan was developed to address the more expensive problems over the next few years. Public Works Director Dave Ford also persuaded the NH Department of Transportation to delay paving Center Street from Main Street to Route 109A to allow the town to complete major sewer and drainage upgrades on Center, Pine and Lehner Streetds. DOT not only agreed but is allowing the town to manage the project and is helping pay for it.
The Wolfeboro Public Library also started the process of planning for its future. The trustees got permission from voters to spend trust funds to develop conceptual plans for a new or expanded library based on current and projected usage and needs. The Johnson Roberts architectural firm was hired and made two public presentations on possible designs, and a total of 10 meetings were held with staff and interested parties before the trustees settled on a plan for a new single-story building to replace the current building by 2016. The trustees plan to raise half of the estimated $7.4 million cost through grants and private donations.
The Town of Wolfeboro also signed an agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice to settle a 2005 complaint of violations to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). As noted earlier, the town has made a number of physical upgrades to its facilities, both in 2009 and 2010, and the agreement commits the town to correcting the remaining problems over the next two years. Bobby Hanson, who had filed the original complaint about lack of access to town buildings, took advantage of the Wolfe Hunt described earlier to inspect the 55 private businesses participating and found that only four met ADA standards.
A number of new businesses opened in town during the year, most of which replaced businesses that had closed for financial reasons or owner retirement. 51 Mill Street was purchased and remodeled and opened at Bayside Grille and Downtown Market Grille was sold and moved into the former Hall's Pharmacy space on Main Street and reopened at Downtown Grille Café. Barbara Naramore sold her Wolfetrap Restaurant to new owners, and opened a pizza place where the Downtown Market Grille was located on Railroad Avenue while expanding her Wolfecatch Fish Market. The Barn Door, formerly Bittersweet Restaurant, remains for sale, however.
Reflecting the decline in video rentals, Showtime Video closed in the Wolfeboro Shopping Center and was replaced by Care Pharmacy in October, thus creating another alternative to Rite Aid following the closure of Hall's Pharmacy in 2009. Pronto Market in Clarke Plaza across the street also closed its doors after nearly 30 years; Skelley's Market will be taking its place in 2011, run by the Skelley family, which has deep roots in Wolfeboro, having run Bailey's and Dockside Restaurants and still running Bailey's Bubble ice cream stand in the summer.
Because of the national economic downtown, area businesses dependent on tourism were concerned that 2010 would be a bad year. Spurred by the 250th Anniversary Celebration, which drew a New Hampshire Chronicle team to Wolfeboro for a week-long segment, the season turned out much better than expected.
The Wolfeboro Economic Development Committee released a consultant's report on the Wolfeboro area's economic strengths and weaknesses. It revealed that while the town had a number of strong growth areas, including healthcare and education, it was also suffering a decline in retail and hospitality, key sectors for an economy dependent on tourism. The next step is develop plans to build on strengths and to address the retail and hospitality weaknesses.
The year 2010 was not without controversy. Although voters approved making $110,000 worth of basic and code-required repairs to Brewster Hall, objections were still raised to performing major work on the building. The Friends of Town Hall funded a modified rehabilitation plan by Newport Collaborative Architects with a projected price tag of $4 million, down by more than 40 percent from the $6.7 million last proposed in 2008. Among the many changes from the 2008 plan are a commitment to energy efficiency and private fundraising to complete the auditorium space. By year end the selectmen and Budget Committee had approved the $4 million proposal to go on the March 2011 warrant.
Another controversy concerned the town's enforcement of its sign ordinance. Businesses, led by Michelle Fabricant of Downtown Market Grille, argued that the ordinance was too strict, especially regarding portable A-frame signs, and was selectively enforced. Selectmen voted to suspend enforcement until a revised sign ordinance could be drawn up and presented to voters. The Chamber sponsored a work session on the ordinance and two public hearing were held in 2010.
Residents of Eagle Trace objected to the sale of a house on their street to be used as a care facility for patients from Lakeview Rehabilitation. Lakeview has taken the position that no local zoning approval is needed, and the residents and selectmen have asked that the state rules allowing local zoning override be reconsidered.
Among many milestones passed in 2010 was the 150th anniversary of the publication of this newspaper on Nov. 1. The first issue of the Granite State News was published on Nov. 1, 1860. Over the following year a series of lookbacks and reminiscences are planned.
The Kingswood Youth Center completed its first year in its new building on Center Street: see the photo on this week's Opinion page. Great Waters Music Festival completed its 15th season and Wolfeboro Friends of Music began its 75th year this fall. This season is also the 75th for Wolfeboro's Abenaki Ski Area.
These are just the highlights of what was a very busy and productive year for the town.
A review of people changes, from the departure of Wolfeboro Selectman Marge Webster to those who passed away will follow next week.