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State, local authorities investigating fire at center

MANCHESTER — The state joined local authorities Monday in an arson investigation of a fire in a vacant building at the John H. Sununu Youth Services Center on River Road.

The pre-dawn fire Sunday caused an estimated $250,000 damage to the Wilkins Cottage, built in the early 1900s as a dormitory for the youth correctional facility.

Investigators returned Monday to the facility, still commonly called by its former name, the Youth Development Center. The investigators spoke with Sununu Center administrators, but refused to disclose details. The case became a criminal matter when the fire was classified as arson on Sunday. “We met with YDC staff and discussed some avenues that we need to look at,” said Mitch Cady, a deputy fire marshal with the Manchester Fire Department.

Cady declined to discuss what was used to start the fire and who may have done it. Manchester police are also involved in the investigation; New Hampshire Fire Marshal Bill Degnan said Monday that state arson investigators were joining the local agencies.

The property has been owned by the state since the 1850s; the Sununu Center is part of the Department of Health and Human Services.

The Wilkins Cottage has not been used by the state since the late 1970s. Fire officials said the building was no longer connected to electricity or other utilities and had been boarded up for years.

Manchester police responded to a call from the center around 12:30 p.m. on May 26 reporting a door in the back of the building had been pried open, police Lt. Maureen Tessier said. The 25,000 square-foot building appeared to be unoccupied. Tessier said police received another call May 26 around 6 p.m. The responding officers reported four teenagers were found inside. No charges were filed and the teens, who were not residents of the detention center just down the street, were released. Police would not identify the youths Monday.Cady would not say whether investigators plan to question or already had spoken to the youths found inside the Wilkins Cottage last month.