The Sherman Adams Building will be able to increase capacity this summer, according to the Mt. Washington Commission. (COURTESY PHOTO)

CONCORD — Opening up the Sherman Adams Building for the summer tourist season and safely handling crowds appears far less daunting than it did just weeks ago, the Mt. Washington Commission learned at last Friday’s Zoom meeting.

A work-around can almost certainly eliminate concerns about life safety issues in the building located just below the 6,288-foot peak in the 60.3-acre Mount Washington State Park.

The Office of the State Fire Marshal worked with architect Tom Mansfield of the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources and agreed to increase the SAB’s main floor capacity to 475 occupants and its ground floor capacity to 278, both including staff.

Earlier, a state fire marshal assessment had capped main-floor occupancy at only 340 but the ground floor at 298.

At first, the only solution to increasing capacity appeared to call for replacing at least one of the overhead doors in the SAB’s large entryway. That custom construction project not only had an estimated capital cost of over $100,000 but also likely would not have been in place until Labor Day. The approach, however, would have increased main-floor capacity to 500.

Problem-solvers have now concluded that a staff member can just keep one of the existing overhead doors open all day by securing it with a padlock, ensuring occupants can exit the building in an emergency. The wind direction will determine which overhead door should be padlocked into an open position.

An extra plus for commission chairman District 3 Sen. Jeb Bradley (R-Wolfeboro) is that he will no longer need to persuade his Senate colleagues to increase the state’s capital budget, as originally expected.

The total cost of the new approach can be absorbed in the park’s operating budget since other changes only include relocating two exit signs, replacing some door hardware and new signs.

Another plus to the new plan is there will be no need to employ a reservation system. Last summer, a substantial number of those who made reservations did not show up.

At Friday’s Zoom meeting, Parks Director Phil Bryce did point out that the fire marshal had not yet signed the needed permit.

Bryce also provided the commission with an update on what will likely become a series of state guidance advisories in the ongoing battle against the spread of COVID-19 at a time when a rising number of vaccines have been administered. Earlier in the day, Bryce participated as an active member in a policy-recommending committee that reports to Gov. Chris Sununu.

DNCR Commissioner Sarah Stewart said the department would pull together a plan with the aim of safely reaching normalcy.

Interim Executive Director Donna Dunn of the Mt. Washington Observatory explained that the non-profit has begun interviewing applicants to work in the Obs museum on the SAB’s ground floor. This year, employees will have to travel every day to the peak, since only the weather staff will spend nights in its overnight facilities. Since not one weather staff member has contracted COVID-19, they will continue to be sequestered.

Those considering accepting a job in the museum want to know whetherthey must wear a mask in the SAB, Dunn said. The ventilator units are on hand in North Conway and ready to be installed in the windowless museum once the surface of the Mt. Washington Auto Road firms up, she said.

The summit Master Plan was the final major agenda taken up by the commission.

Commissioner Stewart and attorney Michael Haley of the Department of Justice, who represents the DNCR in the Client Counseling Unit the Civil Bureau, presented information on the no-cost Harvard Negotiation and Mediation Clinical program of Harvard Law School.

Both believe that this dispute resolution program could be beneficial in helping to iron out some of the contentious issues that have arisen between some of the organizations that have designated seats on the commission.

Haley, a 2019 graduate of Harvard Law School who was recommended by former N.H. Attorney General Gordon MacDonald to be hired in June 2020, lists on his resume his participation in this clinical program in fall 2017.

The attorney explained that the program is beneficial not only to those whose thorny organizational issues are studied and addressed but also to those who are studying at various Harvard University graduate schools.

Because of the press of application deadlines, the commission reached consensus that the staff could draw up a draft application for possible approval at its next meeting June 4 at 9 a.m.

This meeting could potentially be held in-person at the Peabody Base Lodge in Franconia Notch State Park.

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