Governor seeks sole authority to sell former Laconia State School property

By: - June 9, 2021 3:15 pm

Gov. Chris Sununu has requested that the Legislature give him sole authority to sell the former Laconia State School property, with the approval of the Executive Council. (Getty Images)

This story was updated on June 9, 2021, at 4 p.m. with new information.

For five years, the Lakeshore Redevelopment Planning Commission has pursued its legislative charge to prepare and sell the state’s 220 acres overlooking Lake Winnisquam in Laconia to someone committed to creating jobs and promoting economic development. Now, the Legislature is poised to oblige the governor’s request that he have sole authority to sell the Lakes Region Facility, with the approval of the Executive Council.

That proposal, which has raised concerns in Laconia, would allow Gov. Chris Sununu to sidestep the commission and sell the property much faster because he would not have to follow the more cumbersome process traditionally required to sell state property. That process is also more public than would be the governor’s request to the Executive Council to approve a sale.

“Myself and the city council and everyone in the Lakes Region are supportive of the Lakeshore Redevelopment Planning Commission and feel that is the proper way to handle that property,” said Laconia Mayor Andrew Hosmer. City officials had hoped the proposal, which is tucked into House Bill 2, would be rethought before the bill reached the governor’s office. It was amended, but only slightly, to prohibit a sale from including Ahern State Park, which is on the property.

Sununu’s spokesman, Ben Vihstadt, said the planning commission will continue to be part of the redevelopment process. “The language in House Bill 2 simply opens a new potential door of opportunity to see if there is interest on the market to purchase and acquire the property,” Vihstadt said. “Whether the state sells the property through this new avenue or through the redevelopment commission, the end goal remains the same.”

Sununu has the enthusiastic support of Sen. Bob Giuda, a Warren Republican who has watched redevelopment efforts stall for many of his 20 years in the House and Senate.

“The commission has been at this for at least four years and nothing is happening,” he said. “That’s why Gov. Sununu is saying, ‘Let’s get this done.’ And frankly, now is a good time to sell. We’ve dilly-dallied on the sale of this property for years. Let’s get it into the hands of someone who can do something productive with it.”

The Lakeshore Redevelopment Planning Commission has developed a strategic plan that envisions a mix of residential and senior housing and medical facilities that would develop the entire property and not just the most visible portion along the road, said Chairman George Bald.

The property came into the state’s hands in the early 1900s, and was first home to the Laconia State School, an institution that housed people with developmental disabilities for most of their lives. In 1991, the state used it as a prison and then a transitional housing unit for inmates headed for release. The state closed the prison in 2009.

The planning commission, created by the Legislature in 2017, is the fourth such group appointed to repurpose the property.

Bald said the group has surveyed the property for environmental concerns, mapped the wetlands, assessed the condition of the property’s many buildings, and commissioned a real estate market study. He said the commission is soliciting bids now to determine how the property could be subdivided and in the process of assessing the property’s value.

The planning commission learned of Sununu’s interest in selling the land himself from a reporter, not the governor’s office. Bald said the commission will continue its work as charged by the Legislature in 2017.

“The commission just decided that we had a job to do and we are going to keep doing it until the property is sold in a different direction or the Legislature says stop what you are doing.”

Vihstadt said the governor has not made the request because he’s identified a buyer. “No one has ever indicated to the governor that they’re interested in the property,” he said.

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Annmarie Timmins
Annmarie Timmins

Senior reporter Annmarie Timmins is a New Hampshire native who covered state government, courts, and social justice issues for the Concord Monitor for 25 years. During her time with the Monitor, she won a Nieman Fellowship to study journalism and mental health courts at Harvard for a year. She has taught journalism at the University of New Hampshire and writing at the Nackey S. Loeb School of Communications. Email: [email protected]