Conway church gets money  for accessibility improvements

Recorder file/Paul Franz
The United Congregational Church has asked the Conway Selectboard for $37,000 to renovate its bathrooms and install a ramp.

Recorder file/Paul Franz The United Congregational Church has asked the Conway Selectboard for $37,000 to renovate its bathrooms and install a ramp.

CONWAY — The Selectboard unanimously agreed to give $37,000 from the M and M Germain Trust Fund to the United Congregational Church for accessibility improvements.

The funding would support $15,000 for renovated bathrooms and $22,000 for a ramp at the historic church off Whately Road.

“The United Congregational Church is not only a house of worship but also serves the residents of the town of Conway as a community center and hosts many events for the town,” said Selectboard Chairman John O’Rourke in a statement on Monday night.

With the funding, the church is on track for a September opening with Sunday services returning from the grammar school.

If the Selectboard had denied the request, the church opening would have been delayed.

The church can only open if it updates its bathroom as required by state law.

The church has been closed since November 2011 due to water leaks, water damage and mold buildup brought on by Tropical Storm Irene. For most repairs, it has relied on its endowment fund and private donations, but pastor Candice Ashenden previously said costs keep climbing.

The church started off with $350,000 from its endowment fund, but the total repair costs have climbed to $490,000.

In its decision, the board considered the opinion of town lawyer Jack Fitz-Gibbon on Feb. 7, who stated the trust fund could be used for accessibility improvements. The board also took into account advice from the Attorney General’s Office, which also confirmed that the trust could be used for such improvements.

The May 2012 town meeting vote to give the church $100,000 in Community Preservation funds also influenced the board’s decision, O’Rourke said.

The Selectboard put two conditions on the funding. First, money for qualified accessibility improvements be allocated as bills and presented to the board. Second, that before any money is allocated, an agreement must be executed by the church and Selectboard that any sale, transfer or change in use of the church property would result in immediate repayment in full of the money plus interest.

It will be the second time this year the board has been asked and agreed to provide money from the trust for accessibility improvements. The board also agreed in April to give the Conway Community Swimming Pool Committee $235,000 for improvements to the beach area at the town swimming hole, a project that has begun this month.

In the past, the trust fund has mainly supported student scholarships — about $30,000 each year.

You can reach Kathleen McKiernan at::
or 413-772-0261 ext. 268.

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