Sugar house at Laconia State School property

This maple sugar house on the grounds of the former Laconia State School is among the 36 buildings and six accessory structures that remain on the property that is bounded on the west by Ahern State Park.

LACONIA — The Lakeshore Redevelopment Planning Commission tasked with finding the best use for the former Laconia State School campus has lent its support to a proposal that envisions using a portion of the property as a food hub.

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Mary Macdonald told the commission that her business, Genuine Local, gives food-related businesses access to production facilities, bulk buying of ingredients, packaging equipment, and regulatory compliance services, among other perks.

The Meredith-based company assists food producers tap into a network of mentors and industry experts that can help them meet the rising demand for local, organic, innovative and natural food products.

Since opening about two and a half years ago, Genuine Local has partnered with 22 area farms and 150 food-related businesses. It now employs six full-time workers.

Macdonald said she has a high level of confidence that within three years of setting up shop on the state school property, 20 to 25 new on-site jobs would be created. She envisions using 13 to 20 acres of the property around the dairy barn that fronts Route 106.

A partnership with the New Hampshire Maple Producers Association could potentially equip the adjacent sugar house with evaporators, allowing operations to resume, attracting the public, and teaching the craft of maple sugaring.

The operations could also include a chef’s garden with food grown to order for area restaurants.

The added real estate could also allow for the creation of artisanal foods including cheese, cured meats or fruit preserves.

The stone barn on the property, which Macdonald said was originally built as a carriage shed, could be converted into a restaurant that could offer a farm-to-table menu.

“It would preserve a portion of the remaining farmland and buildings in a sympathetic manner to the history and the neighboring residents,” Macdonald said.

Genuine Local is an established growing business that, with larger quarters, could meet rising demands and have a tremendous ripple effect on the local economy, she said.

The demand is real, and to expand and grow a food hub, access to a site such as the state school is key, Macdonald told the commission, urging them to consider the food hub as a candidate for Phase I development.

“A very impressive presentation. I think it has great potential for 13 to 20 acres and would be a great seed to grow the rest of the project from,” said Commissioner Rusty McLear.

On a motion by Robert Cheney, seconded by McLear, the commission voted unanimously to include an agricultural component in its final plan to be submitted to the Legislature, which will decide the ultimate fate of the state-owned property.

During Tuesday’s meeting, Laconia City Planner Dean Trefethen told the commission that Laconia has adopted its version of performance zoning and that all of the development options for the state school property proposed by architecture and planning firm NBBJ of Boston would be allowed, “perhaps even more dense than proposed.”

Among the proposals being considered for the site is a “hybrid option” that would include 200 homes, 120 apartments, a 150-room hotel, 10,000 square feet of retail space, 10,000 square feet of office space and a 100,000-square-foot health care facility. Also being considered is a 40,000-square-foot sports complex that would house four regulation basketball courts that could be converted into eight volleyball courts.

The commission will hold its next meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 27, at 9 a.m. at Rist-Frost-Shumway Engineering, 71 Water St., Laconia.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019