A Firefighter Remembered

by Lynne Ober

Pelham Firefighter Howard Mastropiero

Pelham Firefighter Howard Mastropiero, 48, died last week while on vacation with his daughter.  He was visiting his brother in Texas and enjoying a day of tubing when he died suddenly of an apparent heart.

The reaction at Pelham Fire Department was stunned disbelief and extraordinary sadness at a life lost at such a young age.

“He was my morning exercise partner,” said Fire Chief Michael Walker.  “We worked out together every morning.  I just can’t believe that this happened to such a great guy.”

Mastropiero, who lived in town with his wife and three daughters, had been an on-call member of the Pelham Fire Department since 1997.  According to Walker, he was a very valuable member of the force.  “Howard knew all about hazardous materials and freely shared his knowledge and expertise.”

“Howard was a husband, a father, a volunteer, an on-call firefighter, a neighbor, a friend, and a person who would go completely out the way for anybody who asked. He will be deeply, deeply missed by many,” said Selectman Victor Danevich.

“You had to know Howard to know what an upbeat personality he had,” said Walker, who noted that Howard had kept their morning workouts cheerful.  

Last Friday night, Walker and eight Pelham firefighters went to Logan Airport to meet the flight with Mastropiero’s body.

Tribute to firefighter Mastropiero

“I was on the phone with Massport, the Massachusetts State Police, Homeland Security and a number of other agencies getting everything set up,” said Walker, who said that Massachusetts State Police met them and escorted them onto Logan.

“By the time his flight was third in line for landing, we were lined up along the runway with all of Massport fire engines, and state police, but Howard’s flight didn’t land,” recalled Walker.  “Then we were told there was a mechanical difficulty and they would land at Providence, Rhode Island.”

Finally, there was a ten minute notice that the plane was back in the flight pattern and would land at Logan.  Everyone lined up along the runway to escort Mastropiero home.

“This will live with me forever,” said Walker.  “When the plane reached the jetport, everything stopped.  No passengers got off.  The cargo bay was opened, everyone stood and respectfully watched as his casket was unloaded and the pallbearers put him into the hearse.  We could see passenger faces at the window watching us.”

“We drove him home and before we got to Pelham, I called the fire station.  All the lights were on, the station was decorated in honor of Howard and the men lined up outside and saluted as we drove by,” said Walker.

The wake was last Sunday.  All 40 honor positions were filled by the men and women of the Pelham Fire Department.  “We had honor guards for Howard.  Each position was 15 minutes.  Our staff filled every position.  There was a huge out-pouring of love for Howard,” said Walker.

There was a memorial service held Monday, July 21. 

“In lieu of memorial flowers, the family has requested memorials be made in Howard’s memory to the American Heart Association, or the Pelham Fire Department Association which was his passion,” said Danevich.  “Please keep your thoughts and prayers with the Mastropiero family.”

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SAU 28 Hires New Business Administrator

by Barbara O'Brien

School Administrative Unit #28 (SAU), which includes the Towns of Windham and Pelham has a new business administrator.  Donna Clairmont will be assuming the financial duties for both school districts effective September 1.

Clairmont is taking on the duties of business administrator Toby Eaton, who left the job at the end of the 2007-2008 school year.  Eaton, who resigned for personal family reasons, had worked as the SAU #28 business administrator for one year, prior to his unexpected resignation. 

Clairmont is currently working for SAU #18 in Franklin.  She has held that job for the past two years.  Previously, she worked for SAU #14, which encompasses the Barnstead and Pittsfield School Districts.  She held that position from 1999 to 2006.

Clairmont earned her Bachelor’s Degree from New Hampshire College and is certified as a business administrator by the New Hampshire State Department of Education.  She is currently working on an advanced degree at Southern New Hampshire University in Hooksett. 

SAU #28 Superintendent Frank Bass said he is pleased to welcome Clairmont as a part of the team.

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State Adopts Final Version of Kindergarten Bill

by Barbara O’Brien

Now that the state government has adopted the final version of the latest kindergarten legislation (Senate Bill 530), the Windham School District has some decisions to make in that regard.

During the school board meeting on Tuesday, July 15, Assistant Superintendent Roxanne Wilson discussed the legislation and some of the options open to Windham.  Wilson serves as assistant superintendent for SAU #28, which includes Pelham and Windham.

Windham is one of only a few communities in the State of New Hampshire that do not yet offer public kindergarten to their residents.  Mandatory kindergarten was legislated in New Hampshire several years ago, but an extension has been granted for those towns which have not yet complied.

According to Wilson, under the newly enacted legislation, the state will continue to pay 75 percent of the cost of new construction or the renovation of existing facilities to house public kindergarten.  The state will also pay 100 percent of the cost of the equipment needed to initiate the kindergarten program.  In addition, the state will pay 100 percent of the cost of leasing and setting up temporary facilities (such as portables) for a maximum period of three years.

Wilson said it is estimated that Windham could have approximately 200 kindergarten students to start off with, a student population which would require six classrooms for the two-session half-day program. All teachers must be state certified, Wilson said.  School bus transportation does not need to be provided to kindergarten students attending a public program, she added.  That would be optional.

One option to building its own facility, Wilson said, would be to contract with a private kindergarten in the area.  The dilemma, she explained, however, is that the contract could only be with one private facility.  With some 200 students to provide kindergarten classes for, it would difficult to find a private facility large enough to accommodate all those children.  “I don’t think that will be our solution,” Wilson said. 

Basically, Wilson said, the options are leasing temporary quarters on a short-term basis versus building something that is a long-term solution.  Windham could choose to lease classrooms temporarily, and then plan to build something permanent within the next three years.  Two of the questions, which arose during the school board meeting, were whether or not kindergarten plans should or must be presented as a separate warrant article for voters to consider or if they can be included in the regular operating budget.  Should kindergarten be voted down as a warrant article, the dilemma of how to provide public kindergarten to Windham students could become more complicated?  The other quandary discussed was where a public kindergarten should be located, whether it’s a leased structure or one that is built permanently.  Those issues will be discussed further at future school board meetings.

Under the new state guidelines, Windham must submit its formal kindergarten plan to the New Hampshire Department of Education no later than December 1, 2008.  Once approved by the state, the program must be implemented by September of 2009.

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Concern Over Computer System Housing

by Barbara O’Brien

Eric DeLong, Information Technology Director for the Town of Windham, told selectmen that his greatest concern at the present time is the current location of the main server for the town’s computer system, which is housed in a utility room in the Windham Police Department.  That room serves other purposes, in addition to housing the computer system, DeLong noted.

According to DeLong, this issue really needs to be focused upon.  DeLong met with selectmen during a workshop on Monday, July 14.  He had also broached this topic during a meeting last year.  DeLong said the environmental controls where the equipment is stored are insufficient and the existing security is not tight enough.  The system needs to be in an area where there is more control of humidity and temperature, he said.  As for security, although DeLong does not believe it is sufficient at the current time, he also explained that there is no public access to the area.

DeLong told board members that he would like to see an enclosure built around the computer equipment, including walls, a drop ceiling and raised flooring.  

“This is very expensive equipment,” DeLong said, “and it is not being taken care of as well as it should.”

Selectman Galen Stearns told DeLong he would like to see the estimated cost of doing such a project as soon as possible, “so we can get it done.”  

Selectman Charles McMahon agreed that the situation has to be addressed “to protect the town’s assets.”  Chairman Dennis Senibaldi directed DeLong to provide the necessary information to town officials within a 30-day period.

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Windham Selectmen Back Paved Road as Emergency Access to High School

by Lynne Ober and Barbara O’Brien

Selectman Galen Sterns and Beatrice Hines look at the road plans.

The need for a second emergency access road at Windhams high school has become complex and is being combined with at least one other priority ­ town officials desire to build that road to specifications for a paved Class V roadway, rather than a gated, gravel road that would not be used by the public.

It was these two issues that dominated most of the Monday, July 21 selectmens meeting, beginning with a site walk of the proposed road layout and ending several hours later with selectmen voting unanimously to approve the petition for the layout of an access road.  According to the approved motion (5 to 0), the access road will begin where the existing new pavement, designated as London Bridge Road, ends (at the high school) and continue to the paved portion of the old London Bridge Road.  Selectmen are recommending a 24-foot wide paved road, with closed drainage to accommodate underground utilities.

Windham voters will have the final say on whether that road will be funded, however, during a special town meeting on Tuesday, September 9 to be held in conjunction with the State Primary Election.  The special town meeting was granted recently by Rockingham County Superior Court.  The proposed warrant article to be decided on September 9 asks for $1.25 million to build the second access to Windham High School.  The new high school is scheduled to open in September of 2009.

Despite the muggy weather and relatively long hike, it was obvious that there was a lot of interest in the topic, as a group of nearly 30 people participated in the site walk.

Local engineer Peter Zhodi of Herbert Associates, who had drawn up preliminary plans for the layout, answered questions along the route.  The walk began on a 400-foot stretch of road that the school board plans to grade and gravel, and then continued into the woods.  The walk was well past the high school site when the older paved section of London Bridge Road, a Class V Road, appeared at the foot of a long grade.  The site walk continued past homes, woods and wound through a quiet neighborhood with stone walls lining the road.  Selectmen talked among themselves about widening the road and occasionally asked Zhodi a question.

When the Pelham~Windham News asked Zhodi why he had chosen this path for the second access, Zhodi said that he hadnt chosen it.  Selectmen chose this design, he said. 

Finally the group stopped.  The Pelham~Windham News, then, asked why widening the existing Class V paved section of London Bridge Road was being discussed, pointing out that homes were on this road and emergency vehicles obviously accessed that portion of the road, already, and that this project was to be an emergency second access for the high school, one that was to only be used if the other way was blocked or unusable.  In response, Selectman Galen Stearns said that the Master Plan calls for London Bridge Road to be improved and to become a major thoroughfare.

The Pelham~Windham News then asked if there were actually two projects - You have more than just an emergency access under discussion, we said.  When we said, You have one project of an emergency access and you have a second project of improving London Bridge Road.  Why are you combining the two?, Stearns replied that this would be a topic of discussion at the deliberative session (Tuesday, August 12).

According to Zhodi, 3,400 feet plus or minus of roadway must be built to join with London Bridge Road.  He also cited approximate feet if selectmen pursued the widening and improvement of the old section of London Bridge Road.  According to Selectman Roger Hohenberger, the cost of building a 28-foot wide paved road would be $1.91 million, plus a $150,000 contingency fund.  A 24-foot wide paved road would cost $1.15 million, plus a $145,000 contingency fund, he said.  These figures include building a road from the finished driveway at the high school to the old paved portion of London Bridge Road and do not include upgrading the portion that intersects with Castle Hill Road.  That would cost an additional $480,000, Hohenberger said.  It was also stated that the difference between building a paved road and a gravel road at that location would be approximately $150,000 for a 24-foot roadway.

Planning Director Al Turner said that he had not attended the previous Fridays public hearing on the appropriation of the proposed road construction bond, because he hadnt found out about it until the following Monday.  Turner also said it made sense for this proposed road configuration, because, otherwise, people living in that portion of Windham would have to drive around and through neighborhoods to reach the high school.  Turner also said that if the road is built as proposed fire and police would have better access to the immediate neighborhood, giving the impression that emergency vehicles will use the high school driveway/access road to access these neighborhoods. 

Once selectmen returned from their walk, Town Counsel Bernie Campbell explained that the purpose of the public hearing was twofold, to hear from landowners, as well as to discuss and evaluate the benefits and drawbacks of building a secondary access at this proposed location.  Campbell explained that selectmen have a legal obligation to hold a public hearing when receiving a petitioned request.  Selectmen are vested to legally lay out a public road when such an occasion exists, taking into consideration the rights of private owners whose land will be taken to construct the road and taking into account the financial burden on the town (i.e. taxpayers), he said.

The only mention of two access points being required to a public school is found in Ed 321.03  Minimum Standards for School Sites, section b which reads in its entirety, (b)  There shall be access for emergency vehicles from at least two directions.  This somewhat vague statute does not designate if that access needs to be paved or only gravel.

The first portion of the continued hearing was set aside for public participation.  Carol Pynn was the first to approach the microphone.  Pynn also went on the site walk.  Can this be a gravel road with gates (no public access)?, Pynn asked, adding that she doesnt want to see London Bridge Road made into a boulevard.  This seems like an awfully long way, Pynn said.  There must be a shorter (second access) route to get to the high school.

Selectmens Chairman Dennis Senibaldi said he doesnt feel a gravel road would meet the fire departments requirements.  A public road would provide better access from that side of town, instead of residents of that area having to go all around town to get to the front of the high school.  Senibaldi also said that building a paved road would save money on maintenance in the long run.

Resident Jack Hamburger said the proposed road seems awfully long and asked what other alternatives have been considered.  My gut feeling is that when this goes to a vote its going to be a big ‘no,’ Hamburger said.  Zohdi told Hamburger that Bear Hill Road was considered  as an option in the past, but that it would require going through a large section of private property.  Zohdi said that option would have to be revisited should town or school officials desire alternate choices.

Windham resident and school district moderator Betty Dunn asked why selectmen are considering doing this much roadwork with town money, instead of assessing betterment fees to private developers and landowners.  Campbell said New Hampshire doesnt have a general betterment statute, which would apply to this situation.  Campbell also said that abutting property owners facing betterment fees could choose to veto any road construction.  Town officials dont want to do anything that would be a detriment to the opening of the high school, Campbell said.  Senibaldi added that one of the major landowners in the area doesnt even need this proposed roadway to go forward with the development of his property.  While Dunn said she favors building a second exit for the safety of the children attending the high school, she doesnt think more taxpayer money should be spent than necessary.

Hohenberger agreed that a second exit is necessary for the school.  The question, he said, is what type of road is required?  Hohenberger said it probably makes more sense to build the road to town standards due to maintenance issues.  It will be horrendous if the road isnt paved, he said.  If the road isnt paved when constructed, even more money will be spent in the future for the continued maintenance of a gravel road, Stearns said.

The next person to speak at the hearing was Assistant Fire Chief Robert Leuci, who represented Fire Chief Tom McPherson, who was on vacation.  McPherson said previously several times that Windham High School will not open without a second means of access, due to safety concerns for students and staff.  During the hearing, Leuci said, It is our desire to see this as a town road to make it easier for police, fire and emergency medical services to access the site.  A road built to town standards would improve response time, he said.  If the road is paved, emergency personnel wont have to worry about accessing the school in bad weather, Leuci said.  Our primary concern is life-safety issues at the high school, he said.

When Hohenberger asked if the fire department is willing to consider approving a gravel road, Leuci responded, We are more than willing to work harmoniously with all parties to see that Windham High School opens on time.

Resident Bob Coole asked if the road leading up to the school (London Bridge Road) originally was designated as a driveway.  Stearns replied that it was initially referred to as a driveway, but later was laid out as a public road and, once completed, reverted to the ownership of the town.

Glenn Davis, the owners representative for the high school construction project, pointed out that he didnt take on that job until after the initial plans had been approved by various state agencies, including the state fire marshal.  I got here after the plans had already been stamped, Davis said.  Davis also acknowledged that London Bridge Road started out as a driveway but in 2006, the specifications changed and it became a Class V road.  The concept of a second access road to the school is a new discussion since that time, Davis said.

Davis said he is somewhat opposed to the selectmens and fire chiefs opinions that the secondary access needs to be paved.  There are no bad guys, here, Davis said, only a difference of opinion.  If voters support building a paved road, thats fine with him, Davis said.  What concerns him, he said, is if voters reject the warrant article the next opportunity to bring up the proposed road wouldnt be until next March, only six months before the scheduled opening of the school.  If the warrant article fails again in March, that would leave the school district holding the bag, he said.  I dont want to see the school district pitted against the town in some legal battle, Davis said.

A lawyer ney representing one of the abutting landowners said his client favors building a paved road in accordance with the fire chiefs opinion, so as to provide easy access in an emergency.  A second lawyer, representing another abutting land owner said her client likes things as they are and would prefer that the road not go all the way through that area, but, nonetheless, willing to donate a piece of her land to see the road built as a safety measure for the school.  The condition of that donation, the lawyer said, is that the road be built to Class V standards and be paved.  The landowner also stipulated that the town not be able to ask for any financial contribution regarding the improved road in the future.  Land from these two private property owners is needed to make the proposed road work as an emergency access road.  Town officials would not discuss the negotiations being held with these landowners.

Before their vote to support the paved road connecting the new London Bridge Road with the old London Bridge Road, selectmen discussed construction details.  Hohenberger said a 24-foot travel lane is adequate to allow emergency apparatus to gain access to the school.  He also said the road will be safer if it is narrower, as it will keep travel speeds down.  Selectman Charles McMahon said he agreed that the road should be paved and that 24 feet is sufficient.  The Highway Safety Committee had recommended a road width of 28 feet.  McMahon also said he would like to see sidewalks built along the new access road.  Stearns agreed with Hohenbergers and McMahons opinions.  Selectman Bruce Breton said the proposed road should be viewed as an asset, not a liability.

Senibaldi, who concurred with the other selectmens opinions, asked Zohdi if the exact cost of the proposed road construction could be determined before the deliberative session on August 12.  Zohdi said he would have those figures in time for that meeting.  When asked how long it will take to build the road, should voters approve the warrant article, Zohdi said it would take 120 to 140 days to complete, depending on weather.

Selectmen expressed their gratitude to Zohdi and Herbert Associates for donating $40,000 worth of engineering costs to the town, the result of which was that the town was responsible only for $10,000 of the total cost.

Regarding a request from School Board Chairman Barbara Coish, asking that a copy of the proposed road plans be provided to the school district, in the event the warrant article doesnt pass in September, Town Administrator David Sullivan said town officials will provide what they can, when the information becomes available.  Coish had written a letter to selectmen the previous week, expressing concern over the school district having to spend money to replicate plans already in the possession of the town.

Selectmen said they encourage residents to familiarize themselves with the proposed road and hope voters will support the article.

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