CONWAY — According to George Wiese, “These are good times for Conway Village.”
The executive director of Mountain Top Music made that remark Feb. 15 while giving a tour of the ongoing $1.2 million renovation of the 1931-built Bolduc Block in the center of the village, which was purchased in 2015 for $220,000 by Mountain Top.
The centerpiece of the renovation is restoring the fire-damaged Majestic Theatre, though the final work of upgrading the theater’s sound and film equipment will be done outside of the scope of the current project.
The block will become the new home of Mountain Top Music, currently housed in a smaller building that is owned by the Conway Historical Society nearby in the village.
Mountain Top, through a successful community capital campaign, raised $2.8 million to buy the block and fund the restoration.
Helping get to that amount was $350,000 in Community Development Finance Authority state tax credits, along with grants and private donations.
The first floor of the block will be rented out for shops and businesses, while the upstairs of the Main Street building will become classroom space for the music school.
The theater will be used for Mountain Top student and faculty performances, as well as for presentations and shows by community groups such as local theater companies.
General contractor Cobb Hill Construction Inc. of Concord estimates the Mountain Top project should be completed by August, with the school moving into its new quarters, pianos and all, in September.
Wiese’s remarks about these being “good times” for Conway Village extend beyond the Bolduc Block project.
Other village initiatives giving Conway supporters reason for optimism include the voter-approved relocation of town hall from Center Conway to the Bank of New Hampshire building in Conway Village, expected this fall, and the renovation of a gymnasium at Kennett Middle School for the Conway Recreation Department, which is slated for completion in June.
Looking beyond that, the state Department of Transportation, Conway Village Fire District and the town are working on an upgrade of Conway’s Main Street expected to occur in 2020. The Main Street Project involves ripping up Route 16 through Conway Village and replacing a water main that has leaded joints, repaving the road and building sidewalks.
It’s all exciting news for the once-teeming village, once known for its wood product mills.
“Folks who have been here a long time, who have been frustrated by the lack of attention to Conway Village, the empty storefronts and the stalled road upgrade project, are thrilled to see what’s happening, and we are happy to be part of that,” said Wiese.
In 1992, Joseph Quirk formed the Quirk Family Corp. and purchased the Bolduc Block at a bankruptcy auction. On April 1, 2005, the 450-seat theater was damaged by a fire, after which Quirk retrofitted part of the building into the Conway Cafe, with a smaller theater in the back that continued to show films.
In March 2013, Quirk announced that the the business was closing. Various offers were made, including one to retrofit the block for apartments and another to demolish the structure — Mountain Top Music jumped at the chance to acquire the property.
As Wiese and project manager Kate Richardson of Bergeron Technical Services answered questions about the project, they had to shout to be heard above the cacophony of the crews using crowbars, drills and other tools as they did demo work on the first floor of the Bolduc Block.
Richardson and Bergeron Technical Services’ Shawn Bergeron, the project’s administrator, said that in addition to Cobb Hill’s crew of 10-15 workers on site, several local subcontractors also are being used, since the hope is that this project will benefit the local community not only culturally but economically as well.
That aspect of the project is key, said Wiese
“Cobb Hill and Bergeron have been reaching out to local subcontractors, making sure they get the first crack at the bid. It’s one of the things we envisioned, that it would be good for the community all across the board,” said Wiese.
He added: “You know, after all of the wiring, lighting and insulation work is done, they can come back with their families and enjoy a performance.”
Bergeron and Richardson have been working on the project since 2015.
Among local subcontractors hired to work on the project are DW Electric, Superior Insulation, GB Carrier Corp (painting), Pope Security and Communication, Burnham Company (site work and excavation) and Mountain Valley Fabrication Shop (metals).
Richardson and construction superintendent Bart Cangialose of Cobb Hill Construction said crews are working in teams, having started in January on the theater, progressing to what will be the storefronts, then moving to the upper floor for the classrooms.
Although early plans were for the work to be done in phases, Richardson and Wiese said Bergeron recommended doing it all as one large project as it will result in more efficiency in terms of workload management for contractors and subcontractors, and, perhaps most important, save money.
“It’s kind of a conveyor belt-type of situation, moving from one area and allowing crews to work on different areas at once,” said Richardson, a 2002 graduate of Kennett High and the daughter of John and Polly Howe.
“It costs less for subcontractors to be here for one long term rather than coming and going, which would cost more in the long run,” she said.
Cangialose said his company is pleased to be part of such a community-centered project.
“We thought it would be a great project, something a little different from what we normally do. … We wanted to come in and be a part of a revitalization project,” said Cangialose, noting that he may have as many as 25 people working on Majestic/Bolduc Block in the coming months.
The demolition work that began in mid-January involves the removal of hazardous materials, including asbestos piping, as well as pulling down damaged drywall materials, replacing all the single-pane windows with more efficient ones and upgrading the heating system.
“This building will be 100 percent more energy-efficient than it was before. We will install Energy Star-mounted windows, new insulation and an energy-efficient heating system that will be miles and miles ahead of what was here,” Cangialose said.
Architect for the project is SISR Architecture, LLC, of Marlow, which is working with Bergeron Technical Services.
Lending early help was local musician and contractor Tom Rebmann, who took down the damaged old marquee and helped with preliminary design work.
Gala fundraisers were held at the Omni Mount Washington Resort in Bretton Woods and Stone Mountain Arts Center in Brownfield, Maine, along with other events, such as the annual 24 Hours of Music Mountain Top fundraiser, a benefit for the school’s programs, which offer musical instruction for 350 students.
Vincent Vallarino, grandson of Bolduc Block builder Leon Bolduc and now a gallery owner in New York City, attended the Omni Mount Washington gala and has lent his support for the project.
Volunteer Sarah Kimball did a video with residents who shared their memories of the Majestic, which will be shown in the theater when renovations are complete, said Wiese.
Local historian Adrian E. Hurd created a history of the block built by Leon Bolduc in 1931. That history is now listed on the website conwaymajestic.com.
Wiese and capital campaign chair David Mason said the goal was to buy and preserve the building when it became available and also to raise enough money to provide for the entire renovation rather than doing it piecemeal.
The only drawback to waiting to get going on construction was that in the interim between the purchase of the building in 2015 and today is construction materials have skyrocketed in price as the economy rebounded — a factor that led to projects such as the Kennett Middle recreation project to scale back some components.
“So, that’s true, costs did go up — but we were cautioned by other non-profits to not get started until we got the money,” said Wiese.
“We came up with a good, solid plan and are happy to say we own the building and are able to pay for this $1.2 million phase.
“Of course, we will always appreciate more gifts to help with our ongoing needs for the theater and musical program needs,” he added.
In addition to the Community Development Finance Authority tax credits, key components to the fundraising were grants from such organizations as the Northern Borders Commission and the Ham Foundation, according to Mason.
Mountain Top board member and co-chair with Frank Benesh of the building committee, as well as having served as capital campaign chair, Mason said the capital campaign met with success because people have such strong feelings for the building, particularly the theater, and they believe it will be a plus for Conway Village’s rebirth.
“There is no mortgage, and that is really important. The biggest individual donation we received was $400,000 from someone who wishes to remain anonymous,” said Mason.
He noted that many people helped in the effort, with former board chair Laura Riggs Mitchell handling the grant writing and paid consultant Nancy Devine working to get the CDFA tax credits sold.
“On the capital campaign, many people worked hard and made it easy for me.” said Mason. “Was it hard to raise the money? Not really — their motivation is they live or lived here, and they thought the revitalization of the village was important and thought bringing back the Majestic was a great thing to do, and that it will help the village — and it was as simple as that.“
Conway Selectman Mary Carey Seavey strongly shares the view that the Bolduc Block renovation, along with other aforementioned projects, will serve as a renaissance for the village.
Seavey led an effort to get Conway selectmen to revisit a vote they’d taken in December that had resulted in a 2-2 tie on whether to grant Mountain Top’s request from Bergeron for a discount on its $12,000 construction building permit. Seavey had missed the December meeting and brought the issue back in January. It passed that time, 3-2, with the board cutting the fee in half.
Seavey says the restoration of the Bolduc Block will be a godsend for the village.
“I remember going to that theater as a kid, growing up in Conway Village, and it was our entertainment world,” said Seavey.
“As for the building permit discount, I think it’s a unique situation, and I don’t think we’re setting a precedent; people have worked hard to make the renovation a reality, and I think it was an exception rather than a rule.
“I think it warranted helping them out a bit to help that building that has sat vacant for many years and their efforts to bring it back and to bring some culture to the valley,” Seavey said. “It’s the start of something nice coming back to the village, along with the rec center and town hall.”
Seavey added that she hopes the revitalization efforts will draw more businesses to open their doors in the village.
Tom Holmes, Conway’s town manager, is supportive but noted that his crystal ball does not look that far out to be able to determine what it all means for the village.
The Conway Planning Board, he said, gave site-plan conditional approval to the Bank of New Hampshire’s plans to construct a new, smaller bank at the rear of the bank property across from the Bolduc Block at its Feb. 14 meeting.
“They are to give us the keys to the (existing bank building) in September, after which we would need to do interior work, so there is a lot of work to do before the town moves in,” said Holmes.
He agrees that all of the projects — the town hall move, the Bolduc/Majestic project for Mountain Top, the Conway Recreation Department and the rebuild of Main Street — should work together to help the village.
“I liken it to dominoes,” said Holmes. “Each domino has to fall into place, and eventually we will reach that critical mass. That could serve as a spark.”
For more information about the Majestic/Bolduc Block project, go to mountaintopmusic.org/majestic-theatre or call (603) 447-4737.