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Charlotte Willard of Swanzey enjoys the snow last week in Winchester on a new sled from her uncle.

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From the ashes of pandemic, NHDI rises to occasion with annual performance

The oldest resident organization at Keene State College’s Redfern Arts Center is coming home.

Now in its 35th year, the N.H. Dance Institute recently began preparing for its Event of the Year, an annual performance that typically follows nearly eight months of rehearsals but has been heavily adapted for the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Keene-based nonprofit, which offers youth dance programs in the Monadnock Region, was forced to cancel the performance last spring because of the pandemic. That decision devastated the organization, according to NHDI Executive Director Sally Malay.

“There were a lot of broken hearts, both from the kids and the staff, because many of them have been invested and engaged in the program for many years,” she said in July.

On Saturday — several months after it usually begins preparing for the Event of the Year — NHDI kicked off rehearsals for this year’s edition, “Rise Like A Phoenix.” The June 12 performance at the Redfern, where the institute has performed since its creation in 1986, will be unlike previous versions in many ways.

Whereas about 300 children typically participate in the Event of the Year, Malay said NHDI has limited enrollment to just under 100 to observe social-distancing guidelines during rehearsals and the performance.

Rather than having an open registration, the organization invited students who had been enrolled in the 2020 Event of the Year to participate this year, she said. Many of the families have been excited and grateful that NHDI is offering the program again, according to Malay.

“The children … have had a traumatic and challenging past nine months,” she said. “They’re excited to get back in the classroom, to have the engagement.”

Saturday’s rehearsals began with a mythology lesson: NHDI Artistic Director Kristen Leach said she explained to students that the phoenix motif in this year’s theme illustrates their resilience in navigating the pandemic. She said students responded well to the message.

“Each person has had some disappointment attached to the pandemic,” she said. “In the most severe case, they’ve lost a loved one. Or they’ve lost opportunities; they’ve missed family; they’ve had special events canceled. Whatever their ash is that they’re rising out of, it’s specific and unique to each individual child.”

NHDI is determined to have a live audience for its flagship event.

The current plan is to have four hour-long recitals, with 120 audience members spaced out around the Redfern’s main theater for each performance, according to Leach.

That would leave many seats empty, however, since the auditorium has a capacity of 572, according to its website. To fill the void, Leach said NHDI may have a fundraiser where families can buy a cardboard cutout of a relative unable to attend the performance and — inspired by a similar arrangement at the Super Bowl — place it in an empty seat.

“We want a full house for the kids,” she said.

Leach also intends to use a visual misdirection on stage, where only 16 dancers will be allowed at a time: To create the appearance of a fuller ensemble, she plans to project recordings of the other participants behind the on-stage group.

As in past years, the performance will be accompanied by a live orchestra. But in another COVID-era twist, Leach said, the musicians will be in the Redfern’s adjacent Wright Theatre and have their pieces amplified live into the main theater.

Rehearsals for the Event of the Year will also look different.

NHDI usually holds weekday classes at a dozen area schools, but Malay said that plan is infeasible because many districts have been using remote or hybrid instruction and have switched between models in response to COVID-19 cases in the community.

Instead, the organization plans to hold Saturday rehearsals for most of its participants at Winchester School, which Malay said is the only public school willing to host NHDI this spring. (Students at Winchester School and St. Joseph Regional School, a Catholic school in Keene, will continue to have weekday rehearsals.)

In an effort to prevent COVID-19 transmission, each rehearsal session will be limited to 15 students, according to Malay. She said participants will need to pass an online health screening before class and will also be required to wear masks at all times. NHDI used similar protocols during its outdoor “pop-up” series last summer and at classes it held in the fall at Stonewall Farm in Keene and at Camp Spofford.

Even as the organization moves ahead with its 2021 programming, it continues to battle a financially challenging 2020.

A fundraiser NHDI launched in September, hoping to raise $35,000, had drawn about one-third of that sum as of early February, according to Malay, though she added that existing supporters are “doing as much as they can” to back the organization.

Malay also said the recent appointments of four new board members — Keene State administrator Kirsti Sandy, radio host Steve Hamel, attorney Peter Heed and Savings Bank of Walpole officer Kimberly Drone — demonstrate NHDI’s commitment to the region.

“These people are willing to join a board, even when we’re going through such a challenging time, because I think that they believe in our 35-year legacy,” she said. “… We’re a small, little organization, but we’re super proud of how we’re keeping the wheels turning.”

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Energy committee urges city to oppose proposed power legislation

A City Council committee is recommending that Keene take a clear stance against legislation that casts doubt over the city’s plans to implement a community power program.

On Wednesday, the council’s Planning, Licenses and Development Committee voted unanimously to ask the council to voice its formal opposition to N.H. House Bill 315. The city’s Energy and Climate Committee had submitted a communication to the council seeking its support in standing against the bill, which members say would “gut” the law enabling community power programs in the state.

“Passage of HB 315 would have serious consequences on our ability to pursue the community power aggregation and place our whole sustainable energy plan in jeopardy,” energy committee Chairman Peter Hansel wrote in a letter to the legislature that he read aloud at Wednesday’s PLD Committee meeting held over Zoom.

A community power program — a significant component of the city’s extensive plan to obtain all of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030 — would allow Keene to purchase power on behalf of the city’s residential and commercial consumers. This would give city officials more control over where this electricity comes from.

The Energy and Climate Committee has expressed concerns over several parts of HB 315, which would amend the existing community power law that was signed into law in 2019. Specifically, members take issue with the proposed removal of a line that allows municipalities to use tax dollars for some costs associated with community power programs, as well as with changes to what data municipalities are able to obtain from utilities.

Restricting the city’s access to addresses would inhibit its ability to communicate with electric customers, Hansel explained. The city already has some addresses on record, he said, but these records are incomplete.

Hansel added that it would be “a deal breaker” if the city wasn’t allowed to pay staff for work on the community power program, as those employees are paid with tax money.

The energy committee also decried HB 315’s proposal for increased regulatory review.

“The Public Utilities Commission would have to review any plan and any changes to the plan going forward,” Hansel said. “Judging from the fact that the PUC is very busy, this would needlessly delay any implementation of our community power program.”

Community Development Director Rhett Lamb, who also serves as assistant city manager, called it “unprecedented” for Concord to require supervision over local initiatives like Keene’s planned community power program. City staff said the council’s formal opposition, if they agree to take a position, could be expressed in a letter to the N.H. Legislature.

PLD Committee members voiced support Wednesday night for the energy committee’s request. Councilor Catherine Workman noted the hard work that has gone into developing the city’s energy plan and that she’d hate to see anything stand in the way of putting it into action.

The bill is sponsored by Reps. Michael Vose, R-Epping, along with Jacqueline Cali-Pitts, D-Portsmouth; Michael Harrington, R-Strafford; and Douglas Thomas, R-Londonderry.

Vose said Tuesday that he supports the concept of community power programs but introduced HB 315 to ensure these programs don’t unfairly pass costs along to other communities that are not part of them. He stressed that the bill will require many adjustments and much discussion before it’s ready for a final vote.

“The bill, as introduced, is not going to be adopted,” he said. “It’s going to take significant amendments to move this bill forward.”

Vose also noted that he has a number of meetings scheduled to discuss potential ways to improve upon HB 315 and hopes to have something solid by mid-March.

The bill is currently being reviewed by the House’s Science, Energy and Technology Committee, which is set to hold a public hearing on it Friday. City Manager Elizabeth Dragon said she was registered to speak on the city’s concerns about the legislation, as is Mayor George Hansel.

Additionally, Mayor Hansel said Wednesday that he has been discussing the issue with other New Hampshire mayors, who have agreed to sign a letter supporting Keene’s efforts to advocate for community power programs.

“Keene’s voice will certainly be heard on this issue,” he said.

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After COVID-related delay, Keene State classes to start Monday
  • Updated

After a three-week delay designed to wait out the recent coronavirus surge, classes at Keene State College are set to resume Monday, with the majority of students returning to town this weekend.

And as the college heads into the spring, it will be able to detect COVID-19 cases in students and staff faster than in the fall, thanks to a new testing partnership with the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard.

“This is like a game changer for us, being able to get these results” sooner, said Jennifer Ferrell, Keene State’s associate vice president for student engagement. “ ... So that helps us, then, be able to either quarantine or isolate anyone who we might pick up in the testing much quicker, instead of some of the delayed testing that we had previously.”

The Cambridge, Mass.-based institute promises results within 36 hours. Last semester, Quest Diagnostics could provide results within two to three days, though that time frame grew to as many as six days later in the semester, when demand for testing increased throughout the region and nationwide, Ferrell said.

Ferrell also said Wednesday that pushing back the start of the spring semester has turned out to be a good move for the college.

“Things are starting to decline,” she said of COVID-19 activity in the area. “And we do feel confident that, with the current trends, we can absolutely return students safely, and that it was the right decision for us to do that.”

In addition to timing Keene State’s reopening after the peak in local COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, Ferrell said the delay has given school leaders a chance to finalize plans for the spring semester and stagger the pre-arrival testing and return of employees and students.

Thus far, pre-arrival testing has found 25 coronavirus cases — 20 among students and five employee infections — since Jan. 4, according to Keene State’s online COVID-19 dashboard, which was updated Wednesday. The majority of these cases were detected during drive-up tests, so infected people never left their cars on campus and have returned home to isolate, Ferrell said. The number doesn’t come as a surprise to college officials, she added.

“I don’t think there was any way around us having some positives, and I think we did anticipate that,” Ferrell said. “So I don’t think it’s a surprise. I think we were also prepared for that.”

Staff and students who live off campus have been getting their pre-arrival tests and checking in for the new semester since mid-January, in a process that has continued through this week.

“If our off-campus students were around and already in Keene, or returning early to their apartments and homes and things like that ... we wanted to offer them the opportunity to get into the testing pool much sooner,” Ferrell said. “So, they didn’t need to wait to have a pre-arrival [test] this week and do their check-in this weekend if they had already been in Keene.”

Students who live on campus took drive-up COVID-19 tests at Keene State last weekend and are scheduled to check into their dorms this Sunday. For anyone unable to drive to campus for their pre-arrival tests, Keene State also offered mail-in test kits that students conducted themselves last Friday and sent to Quest Diagnostics for results this week.

The college provided students with detailed instructions on how to conduct these tests at home and also hosted Zoom sessions to walk them through the process of collecting and shipping their samples. Ferrell said 521 students opted for the mail-in tests, while the rest of Keene State’s roughly 3,200 students and 700 employees have come to campus to be tested.

Regardless of how they are tested before returning, all students and staff need to present proof of a negative test result at check-in, when they will be tested again. Anyone who tests positive in Keene State’s pre-arrival screening will need to complete a two-week isolation period before returning to campus, Ferrell said. Some isolation and quarantine spaces are available on campus, too, depending on individual circumstances.

Students at the area’s other residential college, Franklin Pierce University in Rindge, were also required to present proof of a negative coronavirus test taken within a week of their return to campus about two weeks ago. Since then, more than a dozen COVID-19 cases have been reported there, though Franklin Pierce is conducting about twice as many random weekly tests as it did in the fall.

Over the course of the first semester, Keene State conducted more than 40,000 COVID-19 tests, finding a total of 78 cases of the viral respiratory illness. Weekly testing for all students and employees will continue throughout the spring, and some groups, like student athletes, will be tested up to three times a week.

The process for this surveillance testing will remain the same as in the fall, Ferrell said. Each Thursday and Friday, all students and employees are assigned a time slot to come through Spaulding Gymnasium, where representatives from Stewart’s Ambulance Service collect samples by taking nasal swabs, which will be sent to the Broad Institute for analysis.

After getting tested each week, all students and employees receive a wristband, which is a different color each week. No one is allowed in any buildings on campus unless wearing the correctly colored wristband.

Along with this weekly mass testing, Keene State will continue all of the coronavirus mitigation protocols implemented in the fall, including a mask requirement on campus, physical distancing in classrooms and other shared spaces and a limit on the size of gatherings.

“One of our biggest lessons is that a lot of what we were already doing in the fall was working well and was successful for us,” Ferrell said.

Keene State students have the option to take four different types of classes in the spring semester: in-person, online, hybrid and blended. Hybrid classes offer a mix of in-person and online learning, with groups of students rotating days they receive in-person instruction. Blended courses feature in-class teaching, along with online components that can be completed anytime outside of class.

Keene State will not have a spring break, primarily to limit potential coronavirus exposure through travel, so classes will continue uninterrupted through May 21. Students will get a reading day on Monday, May 24, before final exams, which will conclude on May 28.

Keene State is moving forward with plans to hold some form of an in-person commencement ceremony on May 29, Ferrell said, though it’s too early to know exactly what graduation will look like this year.

‘Deliberate, planned and premeditated’: House prosecutors lay out evidence against Trump

WASHINGTON — With graphic footage of the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol and repeated use of former President Donald Trump’s own words, House impeachment managers laid out their case Wednesday, accusing him of engaging in a “deliberate, planned and premeditated” effort to incite a mob to attack Congress.

The riot was foreseeable and intentional, House prosecutors said. In the words of one of the impeachment managers, Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., it came about because “President Donald J. Trump ran out of nonviolent options to maintain power.”

The prosecutors capped their arguments with previously unseen footage from Capitol security cameras and police body cameras, showing how close the mob came to catching members of Congress during the attack. One video showed Senate Democratic leader Charles E. Schumer of New York and his security detail evacuating up a hallway in the Capitol complex, then abruptly turning and scrambling the other way after officers realized they were heading toward the mob.

Another showed Capitol Police Officer Eugene Goodman stopping Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, who was running down a Capitol hallway in the wrong direction toward the rioters. A few moments later, Goodman diverted rioters away from the Senate chamber, an act for which he has been widely hailed as a hero.

Romney told reporters that he learned only during the video presentation that Goodman was the officer who may have saved his life. The two were later seen by reporters talking on the Senate floor.

The rioters “were just feet away from one of the doors of this chamber, where many of you remained at that time,” House Delegate Stacey Plaskett of the Virgin Islands told senators as she presented the video.

During the opening minutes of the attack, Vice President Mike Pence, who had been evacuated from the Senate chamber, was in a room less than 100 feet from the attackers, Plaskett said as she played videos of rioters shouting, “Hang Mike Pence.”

The day’s arguments, and the video testimony in particular, served two purposes: reminding senators of how much Trump’s incitement of the mob put them and their staffs in personal danger, and shaping how the wider public sees the dramatic events.

Within the Senate, the video clearly had an impact. Earlier in the afternoon, some senators had read paperwork or doodled on notebooks as House impeachment managers spoke, but during the video presentations, many stared intently at the screens set up in the chamber.

“It was extremely quiet. You could have heard a pin drop,” Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said.

“The House managers are making a very strong case,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski , R-Alaska, said when the Senate recessed for dinner after seeing the videos. “The evidence that has been presented thus far is pretty damning.”

The evidence may not persuade enough Republican senators to change their minds and convict Trump. But whether he is convicted or not, Murkowski said, the effect on public opinion will be strong.

“After the American people sees the full story laid out here,” she said, “I don’t see how Donald Trump could be reelected to the presidency again.”

Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., the No. 2 Senate Republican, similarly complimented the prosecutors’ case.

“They’ve done a good job connecting the dots,” he said. “I think they were very effective. I’ll see what kind of arguments that defense puts up. But, yeah, I’m going to listen and draw conclusions when it’s all done.”

Trump’s defense attorney Bruce Castor insisted, however, that the House arguments had not changed the basics of the case.

“We know a mob breached the Capitol and wreaked havoc in the building,” he said. “I’m waiting for them to connect that up to President Trump, and so far that hasn’t happened,” he said.

Many Republican senators said they are sticking with their position that the Senate lacks authority under the Constitution to try Trump because he no longer holds office. The Senate on Tuesday rejected that position 56-44.

Seventeen Republican senators would have to vote against Trump to convict him, assuming all 48 Democrats and the two independents that caucus with them also vote to convict, as seems likely. Currently the number of Republicans open to a vote against Trump appears to be fewer than half that number.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said he spoke with Trump on Tuesday night and stressed to him that enough Republican senators would stick with him to guarantee an acquittal.

“I reinforced to the (former) president, the case is over. It’s just a matter of getting the final verdict now,” Graham said.

Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, visibly shaken after watching the videos, expressed anger at the GOP stand.

“I want to say to the Republicans, ‘How do you live with yourself after watching all this if you’re not going to convict the guy?’ ”

She said she hadn’t been aware how close the mob came to the senators while they were evacuated.

Impeachment managers, who said they had not given up hope of persuading some additional Republicans to vote to convict, pursued two main lines of argument in addition to the emotional impact of the videos.

First, they sought to rebut the main legal defense mounted by Trump’s lawyers: that the president’s speech on the day of the riot, along with his other remarks, cannot be punished because his words are protected by the First Amendment.

The House prosecutors argued to the contrary, saying what Trump said and did specifically incited violence.

The chief impeachment manager, Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., in his speech opening the prosecution case, referred to a famous comment by Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. that the Constitution did not protect a person who falsely shouted “fire” in a crowded theater.

“This case is much worse,” Raskin said. “It’s more like a case where the town fire chief who’s paid to put out fires sends a mob not to yell ‘fire’ in a crowded theater, but to actually set the theater on fire” and then do nothing to put out the flames.

Second, the prosecutors sought to depict Trump’s remarks as part of an overall plan, starting months before the election, to prepare his supporters for violence in case he lost the vote.

“President Trump cannot say, ‘I didn’t know what I was inciting,’ ” Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., said. Trump’s actions were a “deliberate, planned and premeditated” effort.

“Just like a fire doesn’t begin with the flames, Donald Trump for months and months assembled the tinder, the kindling, threw on logs for fuel,” he said. He “was ready if he lost the election to light the match.”

Even on the day of the riot, Trump had the power — and a legal duty — to try to stop the violence by his supporters but failed to act, Rep. Joe Neguse, D-Colo., said. “He alone had that power,” Neguse said. The rioters “believed they were following his orders.”

Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, showed video of leaders of the riot reading Trump’s Twitter statements through bullhorns to egg on the crowd, especially one tweet that criticized Pence. Trump could have tweeted an order to stop the violence, Castro said, instead “he left everyone in this Capitol for dead.”

The impeachment managers also repeatedly depicted Trump as having crossed lines that other elected officials would not — an effort to convince Republicans that they can separate themselves from him.

“All of us in this room have run for election, and it’s no fun to lose,” Castro said. But, he said, elected officials know that when they lose, they have to accept the will of the voters, which Trump refused to do.

“What our commander in chief did was wildly different from what anyone here in this room did to raise election concerns,” Swalwell said.In laying out their case, the impeachment managers’ immediate target is the senators sitting in front of them, evenly divided by party.

But Democrats know that, beyond the Senate, the arguments and, in particular, the video evidence, can reach a broader public. Democratic campaign committees have invested heavily in an effort to convince voters that Trump and the Republicans who support him have sided with extremists. Further evidence of Trump’s complicity in the riot will reinforce that connection in voters’ minds, Democratic strategists believe.

That approach may already be succeeding, at least to some extent. Polling by Gallup released Wednesday showed that public support for the Republican Party had dropped since November, largely because a slice of people who used to identify as Republicans now have a negative view of the party.

Democrats said Wednesday that the impeachment managers were realistic about the political barriers they faced but still optimistic.

“We believe in the power and the strength of the overwhelming evidence in this case,” said a Democratic aide who briefed reporters before the day’s session. “And we believe that that evidence still has the power to persuade reluctant Republicans who were just now waking up from the grip of the former president.”