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State School project gets $1M to pave way for initial redevelopment

LACONIA - A regional commission has awarded $1 million to build infrastructure for initial development of the former State School property, a largely unused area that local leaders hope to turn into an engine for economic growth.

The plan is to match the money from the Northern Border Regional Commission with a like amount from other sources to fund road construction, utility lines and parking areas.

George Bald, chairman of the Lakeshore Redevelopment Planning Commission, the state panel charting future use of the property, said he was excited to learn of the award, which is the largest so far for the project.

"This helps us to prime the pump on getting development going at the site and will further attract more people interested in the balance of property," he said.

The first phase of the redevelopment would involve a commercial use, which could be related to agricultural products distribution as well as a restaurant and offices, Bald said.

"My hope is that we can start construction sometime in the second quarter of next year," Bald said.

He said matching funds could come from other federal or state programs.

In order to develop the site, Bald's commission would have to morph into an authority with the power to sell or lease state land. A bill to do that and provide $1 million for the State School redevelopment project was included in omnibus legislation that Gov. Chris Sununu vetoed.

The governor said at the time he opposed the way 40 measures were combined together in the bill.

Bald said there will be another attempt to form an authority and that the governor has indicated he would not be opposed to such an effort.

The Northern Border Regional Commission is a federal-state partnership for economic and community development in northern Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and New York.

The panel said the $1 million would be used to build "1,290 linear feet of road and 765 linear feet of water/sewer/energy lines on 5.4 acres to make it ready for the future development of up to 160 parking spots and 32,500 square feet of commercial space, which will result in 152 jobs, benefitting the entire Lakes Region area."

In all, the state-owned land at Meredith Center Road and North Main Street encompasses about 200 acres.

The award was part of a $4.4 million package the Northern Border Regional Commission designated for economic and community development projects in New Hampshire.

The package included $350,000 for Lakes Region Community Developers for The Gale School Redevelopment Project, "which will improve 7,000 square feet of vacant and dilapidated commercial space in Belmont Village, and will result in the addition of 60 childcare slots to the region, and the creation of 11 permanent, full-time jobs."

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen said the projects funded by the commission are important for New Hampshire.

 "This year's allocation of funds will be used for critical projects that will bolster our state’s economy like supporting workforce training programs, improving local infrastructure, expanding access to urgently needed child care and more," she said.

Other awards:

• FIRST New Hampshire, $113,130, to work with North Country schools and businesses to start robotics programs that will help students develop STEM skills.

 • Hannah Grimes Center, $315,298, to support a full-time position for three years for entrepreneurial programs at Hannah Grimes and the Radically Rural Summit.

 • Mascoma Valley Preservation, $315,000, to "convert the vacant and derelict Grafton Center Meetinghouse into a marketplace and event center by adding a rear addition with stairwell and lift, installing a septic system, and roughing in bathrooms and a commercial kitchen, providing jobs and tax revenue for a distressed town."

 • Monadnock Economic Development Corporation, $1 million, to support building the Keene State College Business Partnership Hub, a 30,000 square foot facility for hosting advanced education, training, & innovation, in collaboration with industry.

• Sunapee Heritage Alliance, $350,000, to establish non-profit ownership for this 1892 "7 to Save" historic Livery building and bring it up to current structural codes.

• Town of Jaffrey, $1 million, to construct 4,370 linear feet of water main to interconnect three wells, a water treatment facility and water distribution system, and a paved access road.