Pelham Remembers Seventh Anniversary of 9/11

by Tom Tollefson

Shirley Dutton, Eleanor Burton and John Lavallee cover their hearts while the national anthem is played. 

Many of us remember 9/11 as being an American tragedy, but it hits closer to the hearts of firefighters and those who lost friends and relatives in the war that followed.  Pelham resident Denise Gionet joined the ranks of mothers across the country who lost loved ones when her son, Dan Gionet, died in combat on June 4, 2006.

Gionet was among speakers at the seventh annual 9/11 memorial service at the town center.

Our mission now is to continue our sons missions.  No, we cant wear the military uniforms and leave our families to travel halfway around the world to fight terrorism.  But we can support those who do, Gionet said about remembering the past by carrying on support for a hopeful future.

It started out as a beautiful crystal day, and then in a flash it all turned to gray.  Our world as we knew it ended that day.  Our freedom, our security, our care-free lifestyle all changed, Gionet said.

Pelham Fire Chief Michael Walker was at hand to remind the community of the fallen firefighters whom he considered brothers even though he never met any of them.  He highlighted the firefighters he knew growing up, whom he considered his heroes.

They were not complicated men; they did not have to be. Everyone knew the job; they performed it exceptionally and exhibited the highest standards of bravery and dedication. They did not have masters degrees, elaborate certifications, there was no homeland security or FEMA, and when they were called to help, they showed up and took care of the problem, whatever it was. They were veterans of Wor War II and Korea, they understood duty, dedication and service, Walker said.  They taught me how to become a firefighter.  More than that, and despite their outward appearance, they were living examples of love, compassion and dedication. They were, and are still, my heroes.

He also said there is a responsibility and cost that goes along with freedom.

The eyes of freedom never close, they never even blink.  From the soldiers on the battlefield, to the firefighters, police, first responders and volunteers, America can and must rise to the continued challenge of freedom, Walker said.

Many Fire Department members were in uniform for the color guard to salute the flag.

Its an honor and privilege to serve and carry on the memory of all our fallen brothers and servicemen, firefighter Troy Babb said.

The Rev. Bill Ferguson of the First Congregational Church of Pelham spoke of hope for the future to more than 50 people who showed up for the memorial.

You see, in the after, we get to tell our story.  It is the way we affirm the lives of those we have lost, the experiences we had together, the family stories.  In the after, we find a way to move our grief along, and so contribute to our own healing.

It was very emotional for me.  My son was in Iraq, and hes safe now, but 9/11 was what caused him to go to Iraq in the first place, Lisa LeBell said.  Its important that people come together to support one another rather than sit home alone.

Music went along with the evenings service.  Dozens of residents held hands and wept while the Crossroads Baptist Church choir sang the national anthem, God Bless the U.S.A, and Let Freedom Reign.

We are happy for it to be remembered in this way, and are honored to be part of it, Rob Gordon, a member of the choir said.

Toward the end of the evening, a Pelham dispatcher transmitted a 5-5-5-5 signal across the park to commemorate the death of 347 firefighters, who gave their lives in the World Trade Center.  The code 5-5-5-5 is used by the New York Fire Department to signal death of a firefighter while on duty.  

Firefighters Troy Babb, Dave Johnston, Captain Al Farwell, Dave Avery and Joe Lepine 

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9/11 Remembered in Windham

by Lynne Ober

Men and women of Windham’s Fire Department saluted the flag.

Windham Fire Chief Tom McPherson thanked everyone who came to the 9/11 Remembrance.  “We want to remember the ultimate sacrifice made seven years ago.  Our condolences go to the families and survivors, to the mothers and fathers, sisters and daughters, sons and brothers, in honor.”  McPherson said that those who died were missed.  “We miss them not because they are gone but because they were here.”

Scott Savard read the Firemen’s Prayer after the National Anthem had been sung.  School Superintendent Frank Bass spoke about the bravery of those who had responded, saying “Our lives have been changed.  A whole way of life changed.”

The bell was rung in honor of those who died.  Then flags were raised.  The American flag had flown over the state capital before arriving at Windham Fire Department.

The audience was invited into the fire station for refreshments provided by Hilltop.

Ringing the bell in remembrance of those who died

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Selectmen Want Joint Meeting on Windham High School Access Road

by Barbara O’Brien

On Tuesday, September 9, the majority of Windham residents who went to the polls for a special town meeting, opposed the town’s proposed construction of a $1.25 million roadway (986 No; 794 Yes).  That road, fully paved and designed to meet town standards, would have provided a second access to Windham High School, which is to open in less than a year.  A similar warrant article, proposed by the school district, was defeated last March.

Although voters have said “no” twice now this year, the dilemma of how to provide a second access to the school remains.  The soonest the question could be put on the ballot again would be next March;  too late, some say, to get a road laid before the school opens its doors.  The issue is further complicated because there are those in the community who say a second access isn’t even needed, while others say the second access can simply be a gated dirt roadway, which would be opened for emergency vehicles only.

In an attempt to clarify the direction that needs to be taken regarding the construction of a second access, Windham selectmen are asking that a joint meeting with school board members and various town and state officials be set for Monday, September 29.

The suggestion of holding a joint meeting was first raised during the selectmen’s meeting on Monday, September 15, by Selectman Charles McMahon, who said he had spoken with more than 70 residents regarding the failure of the access road warrant article.  “Parents are extremely upset as to what may or may not happen” regarding a possible delay in the opening of the school, McMahon said.  “Townspeople need to know the truth,” he said.  “Everything needs to be done in public.”

McMahon then suggested that a joint meeting be scheduled for Monday, September 22; a date later changed to Monday, September 29 to give those involved a longer time to prepare for the meeting.  McMahon cautioned that everyone involved needs to “act like adults” and conduct themselves in “a professional manner.”  He cautioned against any finger-pointing or casting blame as to whose fault it might be that the warrant article was unsuccessful.

Selectman Galen Stearns agreed, saying that he, too, doesn’t want to see town and school district officials “at each other’s throats.”  “We need to work out what is required to get the high school open on time,” Stearns said.

Following additional discussion, selectmen voted 3 to 2 in favor of sending a letter to school board members, as well as to School Superintendent Frank Bass, School District Attorney Gregory Michaels, Windham Fire Chief Tom McPherson, Assistant Fire Chief Robert Leuci, Windham Police Chief Gerald Lewis, State Fire Marshal J. William Degnan and Department of Education Commissioner Edward Murdough.  Voting in favor of sending the letter were Selectmen Dennis Senibaldi, McMahon and Bruce Breton.  Opposed were Selectmen Roger Hohenberger and Stearns.

On Tuesday, September 16, Selectmen’s Chairman Senibaldi came to the school board meeting and presented copies of the letter to each of the five members, plus Bass.  In that letter, Senibaldi said,  “State School Building Rules and State Fire Code require that there be a second access from two directions to the school to meet both codes.  Further, for a certificate of occupancy to be granted, the State Fire Marshal and our Fire Chief must approve the final plan to ensure that these requirements are met.”

Senibaldi also said, “An absence of consensus among town boards relative to these requirements has left the citizens of Windham unclear as to what is necessary relative to this issue.  However, without this requirement of a second access being resolved, the goal of an August 2009 opening of Windham High School is in jeopardy.

“Your participation (in the September 29 meeting) is critical to ensure the successful opening of Windham High in 2009,” Senibaldi concluded in his letter.

During the meeting, Senibaldi said the letter was “not meant to be argumentative,” but rather an attempt “to reach out and resolve” the second access issue, as soon as possible.  “This is not about who’s right and who’s wrong,” Senibaldi said, adding that he doesn’t want to see the process dragged out any longer than necessary.

School Board member Bruce Anderson spoke for the remainder of the school board, explaining to Senibaldi that he had already talked with school district counsel Michaels about the proposed September 29 joint meeting and that plans were being made for the entire school board to meet with the attorney the following week.  Anderson said he expected to have an answer for the selectmen regarding the proposed joint meeting by Wednesday, September 24.  “We’re taking the letter under advisement at this point,” Anderson said.

McPherson has maintained that a second access to the high school is a requirement and is necessary for the safety of staff and students.  When construction of the school is completed, it will  be McPherson’s job either to deny or issue an occupancy permit before the opening of the school.  In response to the continuing dispute, McPherson said he has been willing to work with town and school officials to accomplish the task at hand.  Referring to the recent defeat of the access road warrant article, McPherson said, “Obviously by the numbers, it was a very low voter turnout, which, certainly, didn’t help.”  A total of 1,780 voters participated in the balloting on September 9.  “I’m disappointed that it didn’t pass, but I still feel optimistic that we’ll be able to work together to see this through,” McPherson said.  “I think we need to stop laying blame and pointing fingers and work to resolve the issues in order for the high school to open as scheduled,” he said.

Regarding what to do next about the possible construction of a second access to the school, School Board Chairman Barbara Coish said, “The school board has four or five options that we shall continue to study.  We will not discuss any of our options publicly at the present time.  We shall discuss our future path only after a decision is made as to what our direction will be.”

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School Board Gets Permission to Test Possible Track Area for High School

by Barbara O'Brien

Windham selectmen have given their unanimous approval (5 to 0) to school board members to perform test probes for ledge in the area currently being considered as a possible athletic track for the new Windham High School.  At this point, the land still officially belongs to the town under the stewardship of the Recreation Committee and the Conservation Commission.

Although the land in question, part of the Gage Property, is in the process of being transferred from town ownership to that of the school district, the official deed transfer is not yet finished.  Voters gave their approval for the land swap during town meeting and school district meeting last March.  The land swap involves the school district receiving a 16-acre parcel, while the town will receive an approximate 40-acre piece of property in return.

The concept of a track was not included in the current building project, but has since won the support of school board members, who have now asked the Capital Improvement Plan Committee to prioritize it on its long-range plans. 

The current concept would include a running track with a turf field in its center.

Windham High School is scheduled to open to students in September 2009.  During the first year, only freshmen and sophomores will be in attendance; juniors and seniors will continue to attend Salem High School under a tuition agreement.

School Board Chairman Barbara Coish said that school officials still need to get an okay from members of the Windham Recreation Committee and the Conservation Commission prior to proceeding with any probing. 

Coish said that the deed transfer will most likely be done after the 16-acre parcel has been surveyed and a building plan for that location has been approved.  There is a sunset clause in effect on the land transfer which would invalidate the land swap if construction in that area is not underway by December 2014.

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Pelham Cable Budget Increased

by Lynne Ober

After Pelhams cable coordinator, Jim Greenwood, met with selectmen and explained that Pelhams cable contract with Comcast specifies that 50 percent of the franchise fee, a tax paid by cable subscribers, be used to fund local (PEG) cable television, selectmen have been investigating the situation.

Selectman Bill McDevitt explained at a recent meeting that the cable company could ask the town to refund the franchise fee if the contract was not followed.  He confirmed that 50 percent of the franchise fee should go directly to funding cable access and said that while the company could request the money be returned, he couldnt find any instance where such a request had been made.

When Greenwood had made his budget presentation, he had said, It is anticipated that the town will receive $160,000 plus for 2008 franchise fees and has already received $80,438.  The cable budget should be at least $80,000 according to the franchise agreement and that budget would be entirely funded by franchise fees and not be tax dollars.

Greenwood also detailed the history of the contract and the franchise fees collected and noted that only in 2007 did he receive the contractual amount.  He asked selectmen to take necessary steps to live up to the contract they signed.

Greenwood presented a list of equipment that needed to be replaced, said he had stayed within zero budget guidelines, but asked selectmen to consider supporting the contract and increasing the cable budget to $80,000, which would fulfill Pelhams contractual obligations.

At a recent meeting Selectman Hal Lynde moved to increase the cable budget to $80,000.  At the same time McDevitt pointed out that the cable money now could be moved into a revolving account – just as selectmen had done with the Parks and Recreation Program. 

Selectmen discussed presenting a warrant article to use a revolving account for the cable budget.  On the plus side, no tax dollars would be used to fund this as the franchise fee would go directly into the revolving fund and be used to fund the cable coordinators position, equipment and other costs.

Town Administrator Tom Gaydos pointed out that this would meet the contract, allow Greenwood to plan for expenditures and keep the cable operation completely separated from the taxpayer.  Gaydos did tell selectmen that the correct way to proceed was to fund Greenwoods budget in the towns budget this year, present a warrant article and if the warrant article passed, to begin putting the franchise fee earmarked for the cable operation into the revolving fund.

Selectmen discussed whether they could eliminate Greenwoods cable budget this year, but Gaydos said that was impossible until the voters voted on the revolving account. 

It was pointed out that when this had been done for the Parks and Recreation Department that selectmen told the budget committee they would not spend tax dollars once the revolving account was set up and had funds.  Since selectmen complied with their promise to the budget committee, they felt that the budget committee would agree to a similar gentlemens agreement for the cable revolving account.

It is now anticipated that the franchise fee will be $170,000.  Fifty percent of that would be $85,000.  However, selectmen unanimously agreed to increase the cable budget to $80,000 and to support the use of the revolving account.

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