Dan Dagesse purchases building for recreation department

By Kirstan Knowlton

GORHAM — The Town of Gorham will soon have a new Parks and Recreation building thanks to the generous donation from local business investor Dan Dagesse.

Previously owned by Fleury-Patry Funeral Home, 33 Exchange St. will be the new location for the Gorham Parks and Recreation Department. The department had been housed in a nearby module unit, but limited space made it is difficult to expand the program.

The new location will offer much needed space and parking for the recreation department and town hall. Adjacent to the town hall, the location of the building is ideal.

“We are very grateful that Dan Dagesse is doing this for the town,” said Town Manager Robin Frost.

Dagesse purchased the building earlier this month for $115,000 and gave it to the town at no cost. Based on the 2015 taxes on the property of roughly $5,000 the tax impact will only be one cent per thousand. 

Repairs need to be made to the building before it can be used. The projected cost to repair the building is approximately $27,570. Funds to complete the project will be taken from the recreation department’s revolving fund.

Jeff Stewart, director of the Parks and Recreation Department told selectmen that the town would be using local contractors to complete the project. Stewart plans to have the building open before the start of their summer program.

“We are very excited; we have been wanting this for a while,” said Frost.

Stewart will also be reaching out to students and their families to get an idea of what they would see the building used for. Stewart is considering a designating a portion of the space for a teen center.

A public hearing to accept the building is set for Tuesday, May 31, at 6 p.m. at the Gorham Town Hall.

Berlin Middle School one of four in state to get bomb threat

By Barbara Tetreault

BERLIN — The Berlin Middle and Hillside Elementary School complex was one of four schools in the state that were the target of a bomb threat Monday morning.

Students and staff were evacuated out of the building for more than three hours while the building was searched first by local police and then by a K-9 unit from state police. Police determined the threat was a hoax.

Superintendent of Schools Corinne Cascadden and Police Chief Peter Morency said a computerized message reporting a bomb in the building came in to an office manager at the school at 10:40 a.m.

Morency said three other schools in the state received similar threats and Channel 9 reported Nashua Amherst Street School, Portsmouth High School, Keene Fuller Elementary were the others that received bomb threats. A number of Massachusetts schools reported similar threats.

Cascadden said school and law enforcement officials immediately evacuated the building. There were about 500 students in the school plus faculty and staff. She said the evacuation went smoothly and praised school staff, who were equipped with two-way radios to communicate throughout the event.

Cascadden said while the initial sweep of the building found no bomb; the decision was made to request the state police K-9 unit trained to detect explosives.

“We took the extra precautions. I have to make sure the kids are safe,” she said.

While waiting for state police to travel to Berlin, the students walked or were bused to the high school where the cafeteria served lunch. Some parents heard about the bomb scare and showed up to take their kids home.

Cascadden said parents were allowed to take their children but had to sign a form.

The building was declared safe and the students were back in the school by 2:05 p.m.

One major snafu surfaced with the school’s automated phone message system. Cascadden said she taped a message that was sent out to parents informing them of the bomb threat. But she said the message that went out instead reported a two-hour delay of school. She said the school district’s IT director thinks the system may have malfunctioned under the load of calls statewide.

The bomb threat came one day before the Berlin High Emergency Response Team was set to undertake a “tabletop exercise” with Homeland Security and Emergency Management and various law enforcement agencies to practice their joint response to a bomb threat. Scheduled to participate in the session from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday at the high school are Berlin Fire, Police, EMS and Androscoggin Valley Hospital Emergency Services.

Approximately 40 people are expected to take part.

Cascadden said the response to Monday’s bomb threat will be reviewed.

“We’ll troubleshoot ... and we’ll improve the process,” she said.

Public hearing on Berlin fiscal 2017 budget is Wednesday

BERLIN — The public hearing on the city council’s proposed fiscal 2017 budget is Wednesday, May 25 at 6:30 p.m. at city hall.

At $32.7 million, the budget would result in an estimated tax increase of 82 cents.

Mayor Paul Grenier and councilors said they hope to eliminate any tax increase by the time a final budget is approved in June. The council hopes surplus from the 2016 budget will allow the city to avoid a tax increase this year.

Former graduate offers advice to WMCC class of 2016

By Barbara Tetreault

BERLIN — A 2000 graduate of White Mountains Community College, former American Culinary Federation Chef of the Year Timothy Prefontaine traveled here from Fort Worth, Texas to offer some advice to this year’s graduating class at Friday’s commencement exercises.

While friends and family members looked on, the college bestowed degrees and certificates on 178 graduates in an outdoor ceremony on a beautiful spring night.

Prefontaine told the graduates to work hard, look for opportunities to learn and advance, be willing to take a chance, and be humble.

“You can’t let anyone get in the way of your dreams,” he said.

Prefontaine recounted that he initially was not excited to move to Houston, Texas, when offered a position at the River Oaks Country Club, considered one of the premier private country clubs in the country.

But he took the position and made sure he showed up early for work every day and soaked up knowledge about his craft from other chefs.

“I wanted it bad,” he said. “I was so hungry to succeed.”

Prefontaine said he began competing in culinary competitions in his free time and eventually made the ACF Culinary U.S. Regional team. He won two gold medals at the Culinary World Cup in 2011. He is currently executive chef at the Fort Worth Club.

Prefontaine started working in the restaurant business as a teen and received his associate degree from WMCC while apprenticing at the Balsams Grand Resort. He spent two years as a sous chef at the Balsams and instructor for the apprentices.

In welcoming remarks, WMCC President Matthew Wood called the WMCC community strong and unbelievably resilient and urged the students to be proud to graduate from a college that treasures a sense of community.

“When you earn a degree from White Mountains Community College, you will always be part of our community,” he said.

In congratulatory remarks, Gov. Maggie Hassan also touched on the importance of community and urged the graduates to invest in both themselves and their community. “Everyone counts,” she said, noting that a citizen democracy depends on the leadership and shared success of all to build a better future.

“Your studies here at White Mountains Community College have opened the door to many opportunities for you to pursue in the region and throughout the state.

“My path to this moment has been long and unusual,” said Student Senate President Vincere CouerDeLumiere.

He said he came close to flunking out of high school at one point and then took a long time to figure out a career. He took a journey west and meditated and decided to pursue a career I engineering. But math was a barrier and he went to N.H. Vocational Rehabilitation for help finding a trade that would help him achieve his goal. CouerDeLumiere graduated last year with a certificate in mobile equipment technology and this year got his advanced welding technology certificate. In the near future, he hopes to be able to hire a math tutor to help him pursue his engineering goal.

Kaylie Lapointe, president of Phi Theta Kappa, moved to this area three years ago from Jackonsville, Fla. One of her first observations, she said, was everybody knew each other and people were always willing to lend a hand. Lapointe said she decided she wanted to be part of this community and make a positive impact on those around her. She has been able to do that through her involvement with the honor society and spoke about some of the projects the organization has funded locally.

Lapointe encouraged her fellow graduates to have an impact in their community. She ended with a quote from John Kennedy, “One person can make a difference and everyone should try.”

Speaker Ben Waterman, the student representative from the Littleton Academic Center, also spoke about his educational journey, noting he is not “naturally academically talented.” He dropped out of high school and got his GED. Eighteen years later, he realized did not want to work at the kinds of jobs he could get with his educational level. With the encouragement of his wife, he enrolled at WMCC and graduated in 2013 with an associate degree in liberal arts and this year with a degree in the medical assistant program.

Wood presented the President’s Award for the highest cumulative grade point average to Morgan Bouchard.

The chancellor’s award for teaching excellence went to welding instructor Michael Pike and the service excellence award went to receptionist Terry Lavigne. A special award was given to Professor Jeff Schall who is retiring after about 30 years at the college.

After the speeches and presentations, the graduates were awarded their diplomas and certificates and the 49th commencement exercises were complete.