BARTLETT — Hopes of continuing a local swimming program were sunk this week with the announcement by the White Mountain Aquatic and Fitness Foundation that as of June 30, it no longer is leasing the indoor pool at the New England Inn in Intervale.
The board of the non-profit Aquatic and Fitness Foundation said budgetary constraints had pulled the plug on its programs.
Going back seven years, the foundation has offered youth and adult swim programs to nearly 100 people, including a local swim team for youth. The center has provided swim instruction, aquatic exercise, swim team and masters swimming.
“The foundation and its board of directors, in consultation with the center director and staff, have concluded that the center must be closed to avoid a more significant financial shortfall,” board members wrote.
Board members are Lawton Harper, chair, of South Conway; Bob Magg, vice chair, of Hale's Location; Jack Callahan, treasurer, of Wolfeboro; Lorraine Tilney of Jackson; Jeff Rothen of Bartlett; and Joe Kwasnik of Concord.
Over the next few months, the board, the center and staff will take action to shut down operations and return the management of the pool back to the inn.
Magg — a board member since 2009, before it moved from Cranmore to the New England Inn in 2011 — said the program was facing a monthly shortfall of $1,000 that board members were subsidizing.
The lack of a lead community or corporate donor dashed the group’s hopes of building a pool/fitness facility, he and Tilney said.
“Our board had hired Tim Scott of Country Consulting Group on fundraising (after the group had done a feasibility study). He and Lorraine sent letters out to 50 financially viable donors and had visits with 12 potential donors, and got nowhere," Magg said.
"The problem in the Conways is there is no lead major corporation that can step in and provide leadership on that level. At that point, with no lead sponsor, how can you stimulate the public?”
The move is a major setback for those who had dreamed of building an aquatic and fitness center, Tilney said, adding that board members are taking it hard after so many years of studying whether the proposal was feasible.
The group had first announced plans to build a major facility in Conway in March of 2016.
Last July, the board said it was putting those plans on hold due to fundraising challenges; however, it said at the time that programs at the inn would continue.
“After we announced (last July) that we were putting our plans on hold to build a facility, we redoubled our efforts at the inn and added good, new people and added programs, but there was just not enough return financially,” Tilney said Tuesday.
“There had been a decline in usage, for one reason or another. So, we have decided it’s time to stop,” she said.
Another blow to the capital campaign, Magg noted last July, was the loss of key board members, including Jim Soroka, who died in a cycling accident at age 69 in 2016.
Soroka had long championed building an aquatic and fitness center, along with former director Maury McKinney and other community members.
“This has been a protracted effort by many people over the past 12 years," said Magg in July.
The group spent about $60,000 on feasibility studies, and the board had been seeking four or five "anchors" to contribute to the cause; however, the $6 million-$16.5 million price tag, not including an endowment and land acquisition, loomed too large.
They said the valley has had success with $1 million-$2 million projects, like the Ham Arena, North Conway Community Center and New England Ski Museum's Eastern Slope branch.
"Typically with these projects, you get four to five donors to pay for 50-60 percent," said Kwasnik, who was part of a fact-finding trip to an aquatic/fitness facility in Whitefish, Mont., with demographics "very similar to ours," added Magg.
Based on feasibility studies and visits to other pool facilities, the group concluded that the most viable were those that included a fitness center.
The group had an option with the Kennett Co.'s Bayard Kennett on a 10-acre site off Eagles Way near Kennett High School.
"We had a buyer who was willing to buy it for us. It is located just north of the Kennett soccer field. Bayard was very supportive and agreed to hold it if we could find the lead donor, but that has not happened," Magg said last July, a statement he reiterated Wednesday.
Speaking for the group, Magg said there remains a need for an aquatic and fitness facility for all ages not just in Mount Washington Valley but the region.
Whether that will now happen remains to be seen.
For information, go to whitemountainaquatic.com.