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.

Stand Up Androscoggin draws in big crowd

By Kirstan Knowlton

BERLIN — Residents from around the region met at the Berlin High School last week to discuss and highlight the positive resources that exist in the area during the Stand Up Androscoggin Valley: Embrace Our Region activity expo.

With more than 100 people in attendance, the cafeteria at the high school was full of people eager to share why this region is important to them. Dividing participants into small groups, student facilitators led the discussion and brainstorming activities.

The goal of the evening was the gather community members to generate a list of activities, assets, and community qualities that can be applied towards plans that positively affect the spectrum of care, including prevention, intervention, treatment and recovery.

Joining the discussion was Sgt. Rick Frost of the N.H. National Guard Counterdrug Task Force. Frost shared his experiences working with communities and reminded participants that resources go beyond funding and facilities.

“When people think of resources they generally think of hospitals and treatment centers, but there are more everyday resources available,” said Frost.

Within the small groups each person took turns sharing what they like to do in the area, while volunteers took notes. Activities ranged from hiking, fishing, kayaking to ATVing and visiting local parks.

Participants also listed resources like a strong church community and support groups, both of which were said to be very welcoming.

After the group discussion, participants moved to the gymnasium where they could talk directly with representatives from local community organizations. Some of the agencies represented that evening where the K-Kids Club, Youth Leadership Through Adventure, National Honor Society, RESPONSE, Nansen Ski Club and the Medallion Opera House.

“It’s a good first step, but maybe it can be done during the day to reach out to more kids, exposing them to what is available in the school and in the community,” said Courtney High and English teacher at Berlin High School.

The activity expo was created as a follow up to the Facing Heroin Forum held last fall, which drew of large crowd of concerned people looking for ways to create change. From the forum it was clear that people wanted more preventative measures through community connections.

Since then the Stand Up Androscoggin Valley Coalition also known as SUAV was created to address prevention, intervention, treatment and recovery needs and concerns in the Androscoggin Valley community.

ForumSitting in small groups, participants discussed activities and resources that they thought were beneficial to the area (KIRSTAN KNOWLTON).

Steeped in local history, George Washington Noyes House on N.H. Register of Historic Places

By Barbara Tetreault

GORHAM — Perched at the crest of Soldier Hill, the three-story George Washington Noyes house looks much as it did when it was built in the 1890s.

Considered an excellent example of what is known as the Queen Anne style architecture, the house has been extensively redone by current owners Jeffrey and Anne Hill. This month, the property was added to the New Hampshire Register of Historic Places and the couple expect it will also be placed on the national register.

The house is steeped in local history, built as part of a subdivision for some of the town’s more prominent residents.

The house displays what are considered the distinctive features of the architecture style — an asymmetrical façade, a turret, wrap-around porch, gable dormer, second story porch, and the exterior fish scale shingles between the first and second floors.

“The asymmetrical features, complicated roofline, wide open porch, and abundance of turned architectural ornamentation are all indicative of the highest fashion of the 1890s,” states the application submitted by the Hills to list the property on the historic register. While the Hills have done much research on the house, they hired researcher Mae Williams to do the extensive study needed for the application.

The application also details the history of the property. After a fire in 1879 destroyed much of Exchange, Park and Railroad Streets and caused extensive damage to the Grant Trunk Railroad Depot, prominent Gorham lawyer Albert Twitchell began to rebuild sections of the village. He purchased Soldier Hill — apparently named because there had been plans to use it as a Civil War cemetery.

At the end of Prospect Terrace, Twitchell subdivided three lots. He kept the center lot and sold the west lot to Alna Libby and the east lot to George Washington Noyes in 1891.

Noyes, was born in Norway, Maine, in 1828, and was a career railroad man, working his way up to master engineer for the Atlantic and St. Lawrence in Gorham. Alna Libby was part of the very successful Gorham lumber firm, E. Libby & Sons.
Both the Libby and Noyes houses were built in the Queen Anne Style and were designed by Maine architect Franklin P. Burbank. The Twitchell house was constructed in the Stick Style, marked by its use of overlay board strips.

Construction of the three houses started in 1891 and Noyes and his family moved into the home in 1893. It appears by 1900, he was living in the Twitchell House and his son George and daughter-in-law were living in the Noyes House at 2 Prospect Terrace. But the application states that as a widower, he moved back in the house with his son’s family. Noyes died in 1913 and the title passed to his daughter-in-law who was living there with his son and grandchildren.

By 1925, his son and family had moved to New Jersey and the Gorham Savings Bank foreclosed on the property. The town purchased it and rented the house out for about 10 years.

In May 1935, Thyra Johnston purchased the property for $3,600 and with her husband Dr. Albert Johnston hosted social events there. Anne Hill said her mother, Rita Montplaisir, went to school with Albert Johnson Jr. The family later became famous when a movie was made on their “passing” (see sidebar).

The Johnstons sold the property to Morton and Zilpha Willis, and they owned it until 1961. There were a number of short-term owners until the Hills purchased it in 2002.

The Hills were living in Virginia where Jeffrey Hill worked first for the F.B.I and then almost 20 years for Secret Service. But he said he grew tired of the 28-mile daily compute through traffic to D.C. and the long shifts and decided to retire. The couple and their two daughters had frequently visited Gorham, where Anne grew up, and liked the area.

“We looked at a lot of different spots,” Jeffrey Hill said, but ultimately decided on Gorham.

The Noyes house was on the market and Anne Hill was familiar with its history. The couple thought they might fix the building up and operate it as a bed and breakfast.

Describing it as a "monstrosity of a building," Jeffrey Hill said it needed major work. He said it was literally raining in on the second floor, squirrels were nesting in the eves, and many of the windows were broken. But his wife noted that the interior woodwork and many of the elements that make the house special were in good shape.

In the years since, the Hills said they have redone every room, replaced 70 windows, put in a new furnace, painted the outside, and built gardens.

“It was one step at a time,” said Anne Hill.

Jeffrey Hill, who noted he had the time because he was retired, did much of the work. Anne Hill has continued to work as a pharmacist at Androscoggin Valley Hospital.

The interior contains much of the original woodwork and the stained glass windows. Most of the electrical fixtures remain from when electricity was introduced to the house in the 1920s. The inside space is divided with large ornate rooms at the interior of the main block and the smaller, less ornate rooms historically used by the servants in the ell as the back of the building.

The main entrance is at the center of the south façade with a large wrap-round porch, beginning at the end of the corner turret and wrapping around to the east side of the house. The turret is three-sided at the first and second floors and octagonal above the roof.
There is a small second floor enclosed porch at the center of the south façade. The driveway leads into a one-and-a-half-story attached barn. The first floor of the barn once had horse stalls but has since been converted for use as a car garage.

While there are technically eight bedrooms in the house, the Hills said they used five. They turned the third floor over to their daughters as a kids domain.

Outside, they built a patio complete with a Franklin wood stove, as well as various gardens. Around the house are a number of Magnolia trees zoned for this area and in full bloom on a recent spring day.

About five years ago, the couple started to discuss trying to get the property on the historic register. They started looking into the process two years later and found the stack of documentation requirements daunting.

“It was more than we could do,” said Anne Hill.

So, they hired Williams and filed for both the state and national Registers of Historic Places. The national designation is pending.
Placing the property on the state register allows for special consideration and relief from some building codes and regulations. It is also an acknowledgment of a property’s historical significance in the community.

The Hills said it is a good feeling to see the property restored and on the register. With their daughters now adults and on their own, the couple are considering selling the house to move closer to them. Having been good stewards of the house, the Hills say they are ready to pass their piece of history to a new caretaker.