08-30-21 Ski Museum Bathroom exterior

People wait outside the recently opened bathroom at the New England Ski Museum in North Conway's Schouler Park on a Monday in August. (RACHEL SHARPLES PHOTO)

CONWAY — Selectmen agreed to pitch in $2,000 of American Rescue Plan money towards keeping the public restrooms open at the Eastern Slope branch of the New England Ski Museum.

Meanwhile, they said they will continue to discuss how to pay for town-owned public restroom facility in North Conway.

The $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan is meant to help communities and businesses get past the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic fallout.

Conway is expecting to receive a little over $1 million between this year and next. It already has its first payment of about $530,000.

Thanks to the efforts of Janice Crawford, executive director of the Mt. Washington Valley Chamber of Commerce, and other community leaders, the handicap-accessible bathrooms at the ski museum opened to the public in August on a trial basis.

The restrooms were shut down last year due COVID-19 cleaning requirements. The town rented porta-potties to put in Schouler Park, but selectmen considered them an eyesore.

Crawford said the cost of maintaining the two bathrooms at the ski museum is an estimated $8,000 for the next 52 weeks, with the goal of operating them from 10 a.m.-6:30 p.m., seven days a week.

She said the Mt. Washington Preservation Association, a non-profit formed in 2005, is handling the financing as a pass-through for the MWV Chamber.

Town Manager Tom Holmes raised the issue at the last selectmen's meeting, but no decision was made because he hadn't spoken to Crawford at that point.

"Ms. Crawford has gratefully accepted our offer of $2,000 in ARPA funds to help with her initiative to keep bathrooms open in North Conway," said Town manager Tom Holmes. 

In response, Selectman John Colbath made a motion to approve the money, which passed 5-0. 

Donations to Crawford's effort can be made at visitmwv.com/payment-portal.

Meanwhile, the town is looking at building a bathroom facility of its own.

Asked if he thought the ski museum arrangement, if successful, would make building new bathrooms a moot point, Holmes replied the town needs a bathroom facility under its own control.

Asked the same question, Crawford agreed with Holmes that another bathroom facility is warranted.

"I do not believe that the one bathroom for female and male at the New England Ski Museum will do the trick," said Crawford.

"I trust the town to search out all possible grant funds, and I know when they do they will be looking to the North Conway Village Community to make donations up to 50 percent of the cost or a max of $75,000."

Holmes also discouraged selectmen from pursuing a Land and Water Conservation Trust Fund grant for constructing new bathrooms that he said would come with some substantial strings attached from a state recreation department. Holmes said he was inquiring about getting a $150,000 grant which would cover about half the project cost.

"I'm going to try and talk you out of going for this grant," said Holmes. "It's apparent that if we apply for and receive any money from the state organization, it's a state department, they will forever have a say in what we do at Schouler Park."

The town is eyeing a parcel jointly owned by the North Conway Community Center and the town located near the entrance to the North Conway Country Club.

Holmes continued that the "grant award people" from the New Hampshire Department of Parks and Recreation said they would want to have various accommodations such as crosswalks and sidewalks, and have an archaeological review in order to get the grant.

Selectmen agreed with Holmes and voted unanimously not to pursue the grant. 

"I don't think it's a good idea for us to crawl in bed with them," said Selectman Steve Porter. "I don't think we need to have some outside third party telling us how to take care of Schouler Park."

Holmes also said the town may be able to build bathrooms of its own with $150,000 if it can come to arrangement with the North Conway Community Center and there is a match from local businesses.

Selectman Mary Carey Seavey wondered if the town could do fundraising, and Recreation Director John Eastman said fundraising would be best done through a non-profit because that would create an opportunity for a tax write-off for a donor giving more than $500.

At the selectmen's meeting, the board reviewed how much of of the ARPA funds they have spent so far.

Holmes noted that at a previous meeting the selectmen approved $50,000 to mitigate lost revenue for the Conway Village's ambulance service.

However, Holmes said it turns out the revenue loss Conway Village Fire District reported was not in the time frame to make it eligible for ARPA funds. That time frame for expenses is March 1, 2021-Dec. 31, 2024.

He said fire district officials could try again to see if they have eligible losses.

Also Tuesday, selectmen voted to approve about $35,000 to add curtains to the stage at the Conway Recreation Department.

According to Holmes, an acoustical consultant has said the drapes would be the single most effective thing the town could do to address sound issues at the rec center, which is often pressed into service as a place for town meetings.

Friends of Conway Recreation paid for the curtains, and selectmen agreed to reimburse them.

Spending projects the selectmen have approved but not necessarily spent include $100,000 for Conway Village sewer pipes, $25,000 for pickleball courts and $35,000 for the stage curtains.

That totals about $162,000 spent to date, though the pickleball courts may come in at $27,500.

Reporter Tom Eastman contributed to this story.

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