August 2, 2005, 9:00 P.M.
[Ed. note: This post was written on July 19, 2005, and published in the Laconia Daily Sun that same week. It was not posted until August 2, 2005]
It's All About Options:
At one point the city council decided that they could not make a decision about the purchase of the McIntyre property without a referendum. They next decided that, based on the appearance of less than 50 people at a meeting at South Down, that they had heard enough and that there was no support for the construction of a high school on Parade Road. For that reason they were not going to accept the suggestion of the School Board that some of the $500,000.00 being returned to the City by the school district be used for the land purchase, and they were not going to pick up the option payments on the land.
Of course, all of this ignores the fact that hundreds of people participated in the numerous committees, forums and study groups that lead up to the school districtís recommendations in the first place. It also ignores the fact that, without this particular parcel of land, the city has no options regarding the construction of a new school. Certainly the removal of the option serves the agenda of some community members who donít favor rebuilding the high school or the middle school, but it is not in the best interest of the city to be without options for now and for the future. Not purchasing this property is a mistake, regardless of what the city decides to do about its school facilities.
There is not now, nor has there ever been, any credible evidence to support an argument that the high school building could be effectively, efficiently and economically renovated for long-term future use. Some people say it is, but there is no evidence to support this position. They are just making it up. There is, however, a lot of evidence to support the conclusion that it is simply not cost effective or practical to renovate those buildings without making serious programmatic compromises and spending too much money. Of course the same argument is true of the middle school except that it is far worse off and far less practical or economical to renovate.
Despite the data and the facts, we are at a crossroads. It seems that before we move forward with the final phase of our building plan, people still need to be convinced of the need and the appropriateness of the recommendations. That should be a relatively straightforward process. More importantly however, those who are convinced need to have their voices heard. For some reason, the 50 people who donít support the Parade Road option got more attention from the council than the hundreds who came out to ask questions, to get informed and to support the projects. It seems that our city government is only hearing what it wants to hear.
Too many people are waiting for someone else to pick up this fight. The result is that the council could first say they wanted a referendum so they could "hear from the People" and then they could subsequently say, as they now have, that the people don't want this project or that they don't trust the committeeís findings. Of course they can say that because there has been no vocal support for the projects in the sense that no one has been organizing any additional supporters other than the "usual suspects." They have simply been waiting for others to do it.
News flash folks, these things don't just happen, and nothing is going to happen unless you make it happen. Call your neighbors, call your friends and write to your counselors. The continuation of this dialogue, and the purchase of this property, does nothing more than keep our options open. In case you havenít noticed, the amount of available land in Laconia is not increasing.
I hope that the retirement of Rick Judkins, the Mayorís announcement that he wonít run and the shenanigans of some of our other counselors will motivate people to step forward and declare themselves as candidates for this fall. As I see it, the only way the school facilities issue gets a fair vetting is if reasonable people step forward and assume the responsibility of insuring that it actually happens. To make a decision based on misinformation and half truth does the city a disservice. Likewise, to discount the findings of previous studies and the work of numerous citizen committees, or worse to say that you donít trust them, because you donít like what they have to say is insulting and counterproductive.
None of this will change until people start thinking about the connection between their own efforts and the desired outcome. A lot of people supported the Parade Road site; they just left it to others to do something about it. The same is true about the council. I hear a lot of people complaining about the way the council is operating and the positions councilors are taking. Still I have not heard of a single individual ready willing and able to step up and do anything about it. People keep asking me what is going to happen in November and my response is that nothing will happen, unless you make it happen.
Meanwhile, we are running out of options. Unless the option payment is made on the McIntyre property is made, the option to purchase the Parade Road parcel at the agreed upon price will be lost. So too will the option, now or in the future, to relocate the cityís schools. At a time when we are welcoming more residential development and more low income housing, it is shortsighted to foreclose any options. We are currently chronically short of playing fields and green space for our community. Without this property, our options are getting fewer and far between.