Windham Resident awarded AARP’s Driver Safety Volunteer of the Year Award

by Doug Robinson

Bill Russell

Bill Russell, Windham, New Hampshire, was recently awarded the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) Driver Safety Volunteer of the Year Award, for the State of New Hampshire.

“The AARP Driver Safety Program is the nations’ first and largest classroom driver improvement course designed especially for drivers ages 50 and older to help people live more independently as they age” states AARP.  “The 8-hour AARP course is typically taught in two 4-hour sessions spanning two days.  The AARP course covers the normal changes in vision, hearing, and reaction time associated with aging, and provides practical techniques to adjust for these changes.  Participant also receives a thorough review of the rules of the road, with an emphasis on safety strategies.”

For Russell, what started as a “temporary” thing to do, ended up to be a passion for the teaching of Driving Safety program offered by AARP.  “After retiring from my position as a teaching instructor of Physics for 37 years, I read an ad in the local newspaper.  The ad was looking for instructors to teach driver safety for AARP.  So, 15 years ago, I said ‘ok’ and would do the job temporarily.”

What started as a temporary job for Russell, ended up as a lifetime passion to teach Driver Safety for those ages 50 and older.  “I started teaching around one to two times a week all around New Hampshire over 15 years ago.  After 9 years of teaching all across the State of New Hampshire, I was asked to help the Co-coordinator of the  program.  So, I said , ‘sure’, and what happened next is that I was in charge of the program.  I never wanted it in the first place, it just happened.  So, for 6 years, I was the State Co-coordinator for the AARP Driver Safety program.”

At 88 years old, Russell has never been in a motor vehicle accident.  While tapping the kitchen table with his finder for good luck, he stated, “too much speed is what causes most accidents.  It is all about speed and velocity.  People just do not know how far it really takes to stop the car.  If you are going too fast, you can’t stop the car.”

Since 1979, the AARP Driver Safety Program has educated over 10 million people to drive more defensively, learn how to adjust your driving to age-related changes, as well as learn about aggressive drivers and anti-lock brakes.

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Pelham Girls Hoop Overcome First Game Jitters Defeating Bedford

by Tommy Gates

Alex Catalano, powers past aBedford player

Just one week after signing her letter of intent to attend the University of Massachusetts - Lowell basketball team next fall, Pelham’s senior 6-foot-3-inch center, Briana Szidat went out and took care of business last Tuesday night as the Bedford Bulldogs came to Pelham High for the season opener.  Szidat opened her final year on a bright note as she poured in 31 points and hauled in 18 rebounds to lead coach Tim Powers’ Python girls to their first win of the season.  Szidat had some help under the basket as junior forward showed she’s going to be a force and a big help inside as she opened the scoring in the game with a rebound put back and finished up with six points and 13 rebounds.  Bad passes had the Pelham girls trailing 16-14 after one period of play, but Szidat sunk her only three-pointer of the game to help her team stay close.  Sophomore guard Alex Catalano showed that she’s much improved in a year and she and April Blinn combined to make those easy passes a little difficult to make for the Bedford guards.  Szidat had nine of Pelham’s first quarter total of 14, but she poured in seven more in the second frame, and coach Powers got a great effort from Sarah DeBaldo, with three points and three steals, and Jacqui Perry picked it up under the hoop with several huge rebounds to give the Pythons a 28-26 lead at the half.  Junior guard Nicole Mastacouris and sophomore guard Amanda Blake also came in and played tough defensively for the Pythons.

Pelham opened it up at the beginning of the third period as two big buckets by Szidat and a steal and a lay-up by Catalano stretched the Pythons lead to 34-29 before Bedford put a little press on forcing Pelham into three turnovers which they turned into a 37-34 lead and had coach Powers calling for a Python time out.  Szidat had two more buckets at the end of the third quarter and Catalano picked another pocket for another hoop, giving the Pythons a thin 40-39 edge entering the final period.  Senior forward Kayla Bailey entered the game did a nice job on defense and plucked a couple of rebounds, but the officials seemed to be letting a lot go away from the ball.  A couple of steals by Bedford with 5:18 left and three points from Sara DeBaldo had the game knotted at 43-43.  Eight points by Szidat, four points by Catalano and a fouls shot by April Blinn had Pelham open up a six point lead before Szidat finally got to the line on a regular basis, where she should have been all night long.  Alex Catalano finished the night with nine points and five steal, Sarah DeBaldo popped in eight crucial points and Jacqui Perry scored all six points on offensive rebounds.

The win to open the season wasn’t perfect, but this team knows that they have a lot to work on before next Tuesday when they’ll have to travel to Amherst to take on a very good Souhegan team. 

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Kindergarten Implementation to Raise School Budget Next Year

by Barbara O’Brien

Of the three existing schools in Windham, only Golden Brook Elementary School is anticipating a significant increase in next year’s expenses, but there is a very good reason for that expected jump in costs.  The Windham School District will be implementing public kindergarten next year and it is likely that the new classes will be housed at Golden Brook.

While presenting her proposed 2009/2010 budget to school board members last month, Principal Debra Armfield said, “We are having some growing pains and the proposed budget is reflecting that.”  According to information provided by Armfield, there will be 812 students at Golden Brook next year as compared to 481 students enrolled this year.  The large increase in student enrollment includes an estimated 278 kindergarten students, as well as two additional transition students, two more first grade students, and 50 second grade students.  “We have a unique challenge here,” Armfield said.

The proposed $76,943 budget increases are reflective of the following, Armfield said: the need for three additional classrooms to include furnishings, curricular supplies and general supplies, for an added cost of $58,925, plus additional anticipated special education requirements at a cost of $7,024.  Golden Brook’s proposed budget also includes an additional $12,800 for items which were previously included in the overall Windham School District budget.

In addition to the proposed budget increases already detailed, Armfield is also citing the need for an additional first grade classroom teacher, two additional second grade classroom teachers, and an additional special education teacher.  According to Armfield, these additional teachers are needed due to the projected increase in enrollment at Golden Brook.

At Windham’s Center School, which houses students in grades three through five, there is a minimum proposed increase in next year’s operating budget.  Currently there are 211 students enrolled in the third grade.  Next year that number is expected to drop to 198, but expected to rise again the following year to a total of 248 students.  Next year’s fourth grade is expected to rise from 204 this year to a total of 211 next year.  As for the fifth grade, the number is expected to rise next year from this year’s total of 199 to 204 students during the 2009/2010 school year.

As for special education programs at Center School, an additional special education case manager is being requested.  Presently there are three case managers handling 81 special education students.  In addition, five students are currently being tested for possible inclusion in a special education program.  Currently Center School has the highest number of special education students per teacher ratio in the Windham School District.  According to the administration, this resulted in Center School’s program not meeting state standards this past year.

A two-room portable facility is also being requested at Center School beginning next year, the purpose of which would be to provide space for the new special education teacher, as well as such services as occupational therapy, physical therapy and the inclusion program.  The addition of these portable classrooms will allow existing music and art programs to remain in their own classrooms for the 2009/2010 school year.

As for Windham Middle School, which houses students in grades six, seven and eight, the proposed budget increase for next year totals $8,765 (3.79 percent increase over the current school year).  Principal Korey Becht anticipates an increase of 14 students next year, with the total student population going from the current level of 594 students to an anticipated enrollment of 608 students for the 2009/2010 school year.

Additional positions being requested for next year include a seventh grade classroom teacher (mathematics) to keep class size below 25 students; a sixth grade World Language teacher (Spanish) to expand the middle school’s current programs to include sixth grade on a daily basis; and an eighth grade special education case manager.  Currently the middle school has only one special education case manager on staff.  Becht is also asking that a seventh grade case manager, currently being paid through a grant, be shifted to the operating budget, thereby freeing up the grant for use at the new Windham High School.

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Will a New Fire Station be on the March Ballot?

by Lynne Ober

Pelham Selectmen are facing a difficult situation.  Residents have indicated they want to have the traffic situation resolved using the millions of dollars that are currently earmarked for the project.  If Selectmen and voters can reach accord, that project could begin almost immediately with the final design phase.

What stands in the way of the project is a resolution about Pelham’s fire station.  If a new fire station is not approved, much work, mostly done at taxpayer expense, must be completed.  A new building must be built to house the fire apparatus that will no longer reside at the current fire station after the road construction begins, but that means land must be acquired.  At this time, no one knows what land acquisition or construction costs for this building will be.

Additionally, the current septic system must be relocated, as the proposed road improvements will go right over the existing septic.  How much of the plumbing will have to be completely redone and where will the new septic system be located are unknown entities.  Again, money for this project will be borne by Pelham taxpayers.

As a result of the construction costs associated with leaving the fire station where it is, selectmen are again thinking about putting a new fire station on the ballot.  Town Administrator Tom Gaydos told the board that pricing for a new fire station was reviewed and material costs have not come down.  The current plan was to go back to voters with a project that was in the $3 million range.

Selectman Hal Lynde wondered if the warrant could be structured so the first and second year payments would strictly come out of impact fees and fund balance, resulting that the tax rate would not be affected until the third year and Chairman Doug Viger responded that this was an idea that could be passed by counsel.  However, Gaydos warned that impact fees had to start being handed back by the summer of next year if they were not used.  If this were to happen, then money collected from builders during construction would no longer be available to offset taxpayer costs.

Selectman Bill McDevitt has often worried about the economy and its impact on the voters.  He expressed an opinion that he didn't feel people would approve spending $3 million given the current economy.  McDevitt also noted that the cost of keeping the existing fire station was unknown.  McDevitt said his understanding was that the biggest single expense was moving the septic system and the second biggest expense was for the construction of the vehicle storage behind the building.

Will a no vote mean losing the 4 million dollars earmarked for the traffic plan for the center of town?  McDevitt was very concerned about losing state money ($4million) and felt that a no vote from taxpayers could cause that to happen.  However, Selectman Bob Haverty was not as concerned about the loss of the 4 million dollars and thought he remembered that a no vote wouldn’t cause any loss of the money.  Lynde didn't share Haverty’s optimism on the money being untouchable.  Lynde said the longer the money sat unused, the more it became a target for another project.  He recalled that NH DOT officials had said unused money is sometimes re-directed to other projects.

Viger commented that it was unfortunate it would cost money to determine how to proceed and what the costs for each option will really be.

In the meantime, Gaydos said he was working on the new fire station and also getting prices from Eckman Construction to find out how much it would cost to make the changes needing to be made if the building were to remain.  Gaydos said the voters need the information and need to understand both options and have those options available to them when they voted.

Lynde felt the problem with alternative plan B was that it would have to be done as a one-year expense and could not be stretched over many years, in which case the new fire station construction could be.  As a result, if the plan was to leave the fire station where it was, taxpayers would see a large hike for that one project.

Viger noted that selectmen need complete information and said when the selectmen get the pricing for both options they could then make a determination about pursuing a warrant article.

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Planning Department to be Restructured

by Barbara O’Brien

Windham selectmen have voted unanimously (5 to 0) to restructure the town’s existing planning and development department.

The decision to make major changes within the planning department was made following an extensive study by an independent consultant.  That study was completed approximately five weeks ago and discussed publicly by town officials during the selectmen’s Monday, December 1 board meeting.  The cost of the study was approximately $8,000.

In addition to restructuring components of the planning department, selectmen are also establishing job descriptions for various positions within the department.  One of the major changes will be to develop a new top position to be known as community development director.  Currently, the top position is the director of planning and development, a job held for the last dozen years by Albert Turner.

Comments made during the meeting by a range of town officials and some residents varied from total support of the way business is currently handled by planning department personnel, to some who said the department could use some “tweaking,” to those who felt the time has come for a major overhaul of the planning department.

Kristi St. Lauren, a member of the Windham Planning Board, said she believes the town needs someone who will specifically focus on economic development, both short and long-term.  Windham needs someone “with forward-looking goggles,” she said, adding that the town’s master plan needs to be revisited more often than every five years.  Turner said Windham’s Master Plan was most recently updated in 2005.  Prior to that, a review of the document was done in 2000.

Local resident James Rand, who has lived in Windham for the past year and has an extensive background in community planning, said it would be a very worthwhile effort for Windham to hire a community development director.  Such a person would provide continuity throughout the planning process, Rand said.

Turner, who spoke extensively on the topic, said he agrees with some aspects of the study, but not all.  He said it has been difficult for his department to focus on economic development due to a shortage in staff.  He did cite various examples, however, where he and staff members went out of their way to offer assistance to commercial developers.  It’s not that the master plan hasn’t been looked at recently, Turner said, but rather that the town has had a change of philosophy on commercial development in the past couple of years.  There’s a desire for more retail development now, than in years past, Turner said.

Turner told selectmen that the entire planning department is proud of what it has achieved in bringing commercial development to Windham; an amount he said totals about $62 million.  “We take on extra work and don’t complain,” Turner said.  “We are required to be multi-talented and we fill in the gaps.”  Turner said he is also looking forward to more “direction” from the town administration, so there will be no misunderstanding about what the town’s current priorities might be.  “Even with limited staff, we do the job,” Turner said.

Ron Prebble, assistant building inspector for Windham, said it would cause major confusion in town if Turner were to leave his job as head of the planning department, “due to  his watchful eye.”  “Our department isn’t broken,” Prebble said.  “It just needs some tweaking.”

Planning department employee Mike McGuire said the department could definitely use some direction, but most importantly, the vacant positions need to be filled.  “That’s what’s hurting us,” McGuire said.

Selectman Roger Hohenberger said he feels that someone to serve as director of community development is a definite need in town.  “There is a lot of need for economic development in Windham,” Hohenberger said.  He also said he feels that a technical review committee is a real need and its operation must be more public than the Tuesday morning meetings that are currently conducted.

Selectman Charles McMahon said this is the “time for restructuring.”  “It’s not what we do, but how we do it,” he said.  McMahon said he doesn’t feel that the current structure has provided sufficient planning for the future of Windham, adding that “professional help” is needed to help forecast 10 to 20 years into the future.  McMahon said he didn’t want residents forced out of town due to the high tax rate.  “We need a new direction,” McMahon said.  “Everything has to be up front and transparent.”

 “We do need to focus on how this is going to happen,” Selectman Galen Stearns said.  “How we can attract businesses.”  “We can’t afford to be just a bedroom community anymore.”

Selectman Bruce Breton said town officials need to be assisting existing businesses, as well as attracting new commercial development to Windham.  “This study was long overdue,” he said.  “The planning department’s not really broken.  It just needs new vision and direction.”

Selectmen’s Chairman Dennis Senibaldi said the town’s existing zoning was done to discourage business development, which is not what the community needs at this point in its history.  Without new commercial development, Windham’s already high tax rate will continue to climb in the future, Senibaldi said, adding that town and school officials need to find a way to offset the costs of providing services to residents.  Senibaldi said the town’s boards need to find a way to work together for the benefit of all residents.  He said he would like to see the planning department fully staffed within a period of two months.

Town Administrator David Sullivan said selectmen need to remember the human element that comes into play when restructuring a department; what effect the changes will have on existing employees.

Selectmen are expected to discuss job descriptions for planning department employees, including the one for a new community development director, during their meeting on Monday, December 8.

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