Pelham Fire Department Hosts Yuletide Celebration

by Gloria Sullivan

Mr & Mrs Claus greet the crowd

Sunday nights at Pelham’s volunteer fire department would normally be very quiet.  This past Sunday night, however, was a night of celebration for the firefighters of Pelham as they invited the community to join them for a Yuletide Celebration.  It was an evening you would see depicted in a Norman Rockwell painting, with the festively decorated town center glimmering in the backdrop.  The sound of a church choir singing carols filled the air and nobody seemed concerned that the season’s first winter storm was just hours away.

Over 100 local townsfolk gathered in the small firehouse as Pelham’s Fire Department continued a tradition that has been a popular event for over 30 years.  Chief Walker was proud to be sharing his second Christmas in his new post and could be seen roaming the crowd, affectionately holding his young daughter by the hand.

The garage of the firehouse appeared to be at maximum capacity, with a large stage filled with the choirs and bands from Crossroads Baptist Church and New England Pentecostal Church.  Chief Walker even conducted the Fire Explorers in their rendition of Jingle Bells.  There were complimentary baked goods, popcorn, cocoa and cider.  Members of the department sold burgers and hot dogs to the crowd.  There was face-painting table for the kids and dozens of children proudly displayed their holiday spirit on their rosy cheeks.

“It’s a unique and wonderful way to get everyone in the community together,” Chief Walker said.  “It is just a great night.”  He enthusiastically explained how later that evening a team of reindeer would be dropping off Santa and Mrs. Claus and that they would then travel by fire engine for their grand entrance at 6pm.

Every year the Fire Association, Junior Fire Explorers, Ladies Auxiliary and CERT plan every detail of the popular event, Chief Walker explained.  He said that the fire department collects Toys for Tots until the week before Christmas. They are also is in need of non-perishable items for Christmas baskets that will be assembled and distributed to over 85 families in Salem, Windham, Pelham, Methuen and Dracut.

When asked how long her family has been coming to the Yuletide Celebration, lifelong Pelham resident, Janet Daigle, replied “Since the beginning.  It’s a family tradition.”  Her daughter Olivia is a member of the Crossroads Choir.

A young girl exclaimed, “It’s snowing!” and minutes later Santa and Mrs. Claus arrived to a cheering crowd.  Children rushed to get in line for a chance to remind Santa what their Christmas wishes were.  Three-year-old Emily told Santa that she wanted a dinosaur and a robot.  The dinosaur was for her and the robot was for her friend Colin to play with when he comes over to her house.  Shane Buckley, age 6, was disappointed when he asked Santa for a BB gun.  Santa replied, “You’ll shoot your eye out.”

When asked what his holiday wish for the town of Pelham is, Chief Walker grinned and replied, “Peace.”

Ellen Schofield with “Flitter”, her champion rare bog breed Miki

Emily Sullivan shares her wishes

Elise Sullivan looks like a mini Claus.

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Turkey Trot Brings a Community Together

by Lauren Danzi

Families gather on bicycle, jog, walk, and run in the 13th Annual Turkey Trot to support the Sheperd’s Food Pantry.

The 13th Annual Windham Turkey Trot took place at 9 a.m. on Thanksgiving to raise $8,750 for the Sheperd’s Food Pantry.  605 people of all ages started from the home of Louise and Claude Peltz in Windham.  Louise Peltz runs the race and got the idea from the Feaster Five also held on Thanksgiving in Andover, Massachusetts.  She wanted to run in the Feaster Five but felt it would be impossible to both run in the race and also prepare a turkey dinner for her family.  The race was too far away for her to be able to do both.  She decided to have a race locally so she and others could both race and cook Thanksgiving Day meal.  “This has become a tradition for a lot of people, I just love that!” said Peltz. 

The community came to the Peltz’s door bringing their families.  Volunteers directed traffic with little orange sign with Turkeys on them.  Some raced in running shoes, others biked, roller bladed and walked.  Families came and participated in the 3 or the 5 mile route to support families in need during the holiday season.  “It’s a good tradition,” said Paul Cino who came with his family.  He explained that the race goes rain or shine and has done it all but one year due to injure.

“It’s really a family celebration with the community,” said Claude Peltz.  He explained that the race was non-competitive and if runners wanted to know their official time they should set a stop watch.  Louise Peltz felt that the people who come tend to come back each year because they really enjoy it.  She felt that they enjoy the low key atmosphere because they can bring the whole family and those that don’t want, or unable to run can walk or ride bikes.  “There is that sense of community and family,” said Louise Peltz.  Volunteers who helped run the sign in tables explained that one family ran for the first time because their adopted girl from China was now old enough to participate in the race.  Louise Peltz explained that one runner, Kundi came from as far away as Zimbabwe she is studying at Bryant University and lives with the Wilson Family in Windham.

Before the race began Louise Peltz stood on a ladder with a microphone and welcomed everyone.  “I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart,” said Peltz.  She also thanked several local businesses for donations and explained to the group that Shaw’s donated the hot chocolate they enjoyed before the race and Dunkin Donuts donated the Munchkins.  She also wanted to thank Apple Acres and Park Place Lanes and Rockingham Orthopedics for providing the first 300 people with free T-shirts to commemorate there participation in the race. 

Peltz is always looking for new ways to advertise the race and so it seems to grow every year.  Her daughter drew in college and high school students by posting invites on Facebook website.  Peltz advertised for the first time on a website called cool running and as a result she got people from other New Hampshire towns in addition to the Windham community.  The first year it started with about 50 people and has grown more than 10 times that much.  In 2006 Louise Peltz said the race grew by 100 people.  This year it jumped again by almost 100 people and raised $2,500 more than the previous year.  Many Windham families have made this race a tradition if the trend continues more will add to their numbers in the future.

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Start-Up at Windham High School - Two Grades or Four?

by Barbara O'Brien

School Board members thought the decision had already been made to start the new Windham High School with all four grades in attendance.  The high school, which is currently under construction off London Bridge Road, is anticipated to open in September of 2009.  However, as the result of recent parent and student requests, plus input from those who have already gone through the transition process to a new high school, the topic is once again up for discussion.

During the school board meeting on Tuesday, November 20, Dr. Timothy Mayes, Superintendent of the Bedford School District (SAU #25), met with Windham officials to share his experiences in opening that town's first high school.  Bedford High School opened to students this past September with grades 9 and 10 in attendance.  Students in grades 11 and 12 remain at West High School in Manchester under a tuition agreement.  Bedford has had a high school tuition agreement with the City of Manchester for 85 years. 

Mayes said it took four attempts to get enough voter support to build a high school in Bedford.  Each of those proposals included a phased-in approach for transitioning students from their current high school.  A phased-in approach to bringing students into a new high school was "the cornerstone of our plans," Mayes said. 

It is Mayes' opinion that taking students who are juniors and seniors out of the high school where they have already been going for the past couple of years causes a great deal of "angst" for those students.  "They've already invested themselves in the school they were in," he added.  "We need to respect our students who attend West," he said.

From an administrative point of view, Mayes said that focusing on two grades initially is a more manageable task and allows the process to be streamlined.  It also made financial sense for Bedford, Mayes said, in that the cost for many items is being spread over several years, rather than having to buy them all up front. 

Mayes also said that students have more opportunities to become engaged in school activities at the beginning when there are only two grades, simply because there are less kids with whom to compete.

On the downside, Mayes said there have been some minor maturity issues to handle because all the current students are only ninth and tenth graders.  There are no older students at the current time "to set the tone" for the younger ones.

"All in all, we are very happy with what we've done at Bedford High School," Mayes said.  "It was a good decision for our community"

Windham Superintendent Dr. Frank Bass (SAU #28) said there are two things to consider when opening a new high school in regard to transitioning students.  First, the emotional and social identity of the students must be of maximum consideration.  Invariably, these older students want to stay where they are, he said.  It can be detrimental "to pluck them out of what they consider to be a safe environment," Bass said.  The second issue is providing adequate programming for all four grades at the very beginning.  "We can absolutely provide the educational programs," he said, but it will be more difficult to accomplish. 

From a financial perspective, there would be some savings if students are phased-in over a period of time, rather than all grades taking up residence at Windham High School at the same time.  According to Dr. Bass, in the first year of operations at Windham High School, if only two grades attend (2009-2010), there would be a savings of $229,000.  In the second year, when there would be three grades at Windham High (2010-2011) the savings would be approximately $20,000.  Savings would be realized in the areas of books, equipment, transportation, and staff, Bass said.  However, much of those savings would be offset by the cost of paying for tuition for Windham students remaining at Salem High School for an additional one or two years.

According to statistics presented by Bass, it is expected that there will be 339 freshmen and sophomores in September of 2009, while juniors and seniors are expected to total 332 students.  The tuition for Salem High School is estimated to be approximately $8,500 per student.

Windham Assistant Superintendent Roxanne Wilson said that, from a curriculum point of view, phasing in students over a couple of years is a benefit.  As for herself, she added, if she were still a student, she wouldn't want to leave a high school with which she had already formed connections.

School Board member Barbara Coish said she doesn't intend to change her original vote.  "When Windham High School opens, all the students should be there," she said.

School Board member Beth Valentine said she feels the issue is a very emotional one as well as a complex educational decision.  "We need more information and we need to re-evaluate," she said.  "We owe it to the students."

School Board Chairman Al Letizio said he feels the issue definitely warrants further discussion and that all factors need to be considered.

Of the 20 or so parents who attended the school board meeting, slightly more were in favor of phasing in students at Windham High School, than starting off with all four grades in attendance.  The issue is expected to be discussed further at the school board's Tuesday, December 4 meeting.

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School Board Announces Land for Proposed High School

by Diane Chubb

After years of negotiating, Pelham's poorly kept secret is out.  At the November 28 Pelham School Board meeting, the location for the proposed new high school was announced.  The site is on Windham Road, near the Transfer Station.  

The Board had been negotiating with multiple property owners for at least 2 years in an effort to sign the Purchase and Sale Agreement.  The deal is now contingent on voters approving the $3 million sale at the March 2008 Town Meeting.  Former Superintendent Dr. Elaine Cutler had indicated that working with multiple owners made for much longer negotiations than working with only one owner, but the school board persevered.  

Marinace Architects have estimated that at least 30 of the 43 acres will be usable for the school.  According to New Hampshire Department of Education, only 27 usable acres are required for the proposed high school.  

Frank Marinace is excited about the piece of property, citing that it is the best they have seen.  Because the land is flat and mostly sits above the 100 year flood plain, they believe it is an ideal location for the proposed high school.  Less site work will be required to begin construction, saving taxpayers a bundle.

Many in town may recall the Mother's Day Flood of 2005, when every body of water in Pelham seemed to overflow their banks.  Bridges were under water, and it was difficult to travel from one end of town to the other.  However, William “Spike” Hayes, who was instrumental in negotiating the deal, toured the proposed site after the storm and was delighted that it had not flooded.  

Among other things, this might make the high school an excellent location for a disaster shelter.  A number of other schools in New Hampshire towns are used as backup shelters and command centers for first responders.

Hayes adds that the property is much better than that being developed by Windham for its high school.  Windham will be paying $12 million to $14 million more than Pelham, just for site work alone. 

School Board Chair Bruce Couture is delighted with the land selection.  “It is a great piece of land.  I have personally walked the site and it is ideal for the high school,” he said.  “In fact, 70 percent of the homes in town are within 2 1/2 miles of this location.  It is pretty much the geographic center of town.”  

Couture also adds that test pits have had phenomenal results.  All soil contamination tests have come back negative.  “There are no signs of old water tables,” he said.  “We have nothing to hide with that piece of land.”

Only one school board member has opposed the land deal, citing concerns about the value of the land, its location, possible wetlands and its usability for the high school.  Most of these concerns have already been addressed, or are proving to be less of an issue.  

One concern is about the nearby power lines.  However, studies have shown that the nearest high tension line is nearly 100 feet from the northern boundary of the school property.  The line closest to, but not on the High School property, is a 115 kV line.  According to Spike Hayes, whose father did testing on the land in 2006, the EMFs from the 115 kV line do not reach any improved areas.

“The building itself will be hundreds of feet from the nearest high tension line,” he posted to the message board.  He invites people to review the test results themselves at the following sites: 

School Board member Mike Conrad has reminded residents that the new high school is part of the 4 school model that the Board has proposed as the long-term solution to the overcrowding going on in Pelham School District.  

The plan calls for constructing a new high school in the Windham Road location.  The high school will house grades 9-12.  In addition, the existing high school will be renovated to make an appropriate space for grades 7 and 8.  Students in the 5th grade will be able to move up to PMS, which will hold grades 5 and 6, thus relieving overcrowding across the board.  

According to Conrad, in March, there will be three questions on the ballot:

  1. Land - If land passes and the school district does not use it as part of a building project we will not qualify for the State Aid of 30 percent on the land portion.  That would only be if we did not build on the land, not if we don't start building right away.
  2. High School and Renovation of old high school for grades 7 and 8 (needed to be together so we can bond the cost of converting the old high school to grades 7 and 8 )
  3. Auditorium - Should an auditorium be built at the new high school.

"The school district will need additional land no matter what.  This is a total district problem. It is no longer just a high school issue, there is over crowding at PMS as well."

Couture admits that it is a tough year to ask taxpayers for anything, especially given the recent increase in the property taxes.  “But it is not going to get any better,” he said.  “With the tax structure in this state, such projects are always on the backs of the homeowners.”  

Marinace Architects will be at School Board meeting on Monday, December 10.  Residents are encouraged to submit their questions and/or attend the meeting to obtain more information about the proposed site. 

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