LACONIA — A private group is putting together an offer to purchase the former Laconia State School property, more than 200 acres of prime real estate in the heart of the city, according to members of a state commission charged with planning for the site.
The state-owned land, which has sweeping views of water and mountains, now is home to an operating emergency communications center and abandoned buildings.
“There’s an active group that seems to be very interested in that property, but I’m not at liberty to say who they are or what they want to do,” said Rusty McLear, a member of the Lakeshore Redevelopment Planning Commission. “But it would be a great thing for the greater community and very good for Laconia. That’s been exciting.”
George Bald, chairman of the commission, said that while any offer would be considered by the state, the commission has been a point of contact for those interested in acquiring the site at North Main Street and Meredith Center Road, adjacent to Ahern State Park and Lake Winnisquam.
“We have every reason to believe they have the financial ability or can get the financing to do the project,” Bald said.
The property was used as a home for the developmentally disabled for decades. It was used for prison facilities, which were also discontinued. Homeless people with COVID-19 were housed in a vacant building on the property early in the pandemic.
Any sale would be subject to approval by the governor’s office, which gained streamlined ability in recent legislation to OK such an acquisition together with the Executive Council. Since 2017, the commission, with members appointed by Gov. Chris Sununu, has been trying to chart a course forward that would include self-sustaining economic development and job creation.
The board has hired and collaborated with consultants to study the property, market demand for future uses such as housing, infrastructure needs, historical preservation, grants and the environment.
Whoever buys the property would ultimately be largely responsible for up to $20 million in needed infrastructure, including water, sewer, roads and a water tank, among other things, Bald said.
A key will be a proposal to develop the land in accordance with the master plan, Bald said.
“The city deserves to have the state do a good job to make sure this ends up something the city is proud of and makes a difference in terms of taxes and what it looks like for the community,” he said.
Mayor Andrew Hosmer said that it could be good news for the city if a private group surfaces to develop the entire property. His concern is that only the easiest-to-develop parcels along existing roadways would be built out, or in the case of housing, so much money would have to be spent on infrastructure that the cost of new neighborhoods would be out of the reach of most workers.
“It’s not as easy as putting up a for sale sign and walking away,” Hosmer said. “If the state does that they neglect their responsibility to the city and its citizens.
“The state has used this site however they wanted, for the developmentally disabled, for prisoners, for COVID patients. It has not been on the tax rolls. They don’t get to just walk away from it. They should have a sense of obligation and responsibility.”
Several attempts have been made over the years to either sell or redevelop the property.