Brown Church still can't reopen following 2023 flood

Conway Village Congregational Church Head Trustee Anne Getchell stands outside the Brown Church on Monday.

Conway Village Congregational Church Head Trustee Anne Getchell stands outside the Brown Church on Monday. RACHEL SHARPLES—Conway Daily Sun


Conway Daily Sun

Published: 06-12-2024 10:12 AM

On Monday, Conway Village Congregational Church trustees’ chair Anne Getchell gave a tour along with an update on what needs to be done to get the local landmark open.

“So many people have been asking, ‘When are you going to reopen?’ I thought it would be good to let everyone know where we are in terms of moving forward after the flood of last December,” said Getchell, referring to when a torrential rainstorm on Dec. 19 caused floodwaters from the Saco River to infiltrate the 1906-built structure.

Getchell outlined a needs and improvement report. The four phases total an estimated $1,839,500.

The church had insurance, but not flood coverage.

The first phase is to reopen the church sanctuary and the Fellowship Hall that hosts the Dinner Bell community dinners and houses on the lower level the church’s food pantry. That phase has an estimated price tag of $256,000.

It consists of a hydronic heating system at a cost of $150,000; rehabbing the water system for $500; removing damaged equipment in the mechanical room and building a raised floor.

The flood, which reached about 5 feet high in the mechanicals room, broke a pipe between three oil tanks and the furnace, Getchell said.

After the pipe break, about 700 gallons of oil seeped into the soil in the crawlspace in the mechanical room. Soil remediation work has been completed. Next up will be the installation of the new systems.

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“Shawn (Bergeron of Bergeron Technical Services) is working on a design for a mezzanine in the mechanicals room that would house the new, smaller and more efficient propane heating — no more oil,” Getchell said.

Phase 2 will consist of repairs to the foundation at an estimated cost of $345,000. Phase 3A consists of interior sanctuary repairs of $1,213,500. Phase 3B calls for replacing carpets and flooring ($12,400) and the exit door by the entry $2,200).

Phase 4 is sanctuary repairs — $1,300 for cleaning the chairs, which has been done, and $9,100 for replacing some of the carpet.

Plumbing was reconnected last week, but because the Dinner Bell and food pantry need hot water and propane, they can’t reopen until the new heating mechanicals are installed.

The sanctuary was not impacted by the flood waters but there was damage from the smell of the leaked oil tanks.

That has been fumigated and seats washed, and the church and addition are being ventilated daily by opening the windows as often as possible — but church service will continue for the time being at the Majestic Theatre, courtesy of Mountain Top Music.

“We have had about 40 people attending those services in person and via Zoom. We can’t thank Mountain Top enough. We are very grateful,” said Getchell, noting that the church has about 100 members.

On Sunday, Pastor John Hughes announced that the church is planning to hold a tent revival on the lawn outside the church on July 14 at 10 a.m.

The tour continued to the lower basement level known as the classroom. It recently was discovered to have asbestos tile flooring, which was damaged and is now cracking.

That, too, will have to be replaced. The walls of the mechanicals room also have asbestos that must be removed.

Getchell added that although there was 2 feet of water in the food pantry during the flood, it can again be used for storage once shelving is added.

In the meantime, the food pantry has merged with Vaughan Community Food Pantry in North Conway.

Flooring in the administrative offices will have to be replaced as the carpeting has been removed.

Getchell said the goal is not just to reopen but to repair the foundation and bell tower so the church will, as the Rev. Hughes has said, will be sound “for the next 50 years.”

Fundraising is ongoing, she said.

American Legion Post 46 last month, for example, hosted a well-attended fish fry with a portion of funds to the church, Tuckerman Brewing held a fundraiser Sunday with $1 from every pint sold going to the cause.

On July 13, the church will host a yard sale with the Conway Historical Society from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. to help raise more funds.

The society owns the adjacent former Salyards Center that is now rented by the Robert Frost Public Charter School. The lower level of that building was also damaged by the flooding.

Church trustees said grants also will also be sought, plus Getchell also said they will be seeking reimbursement from FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) but that FEMA disburses the funds only after repair work is done and the work is approved.

“We speak with FEMA on the phone every week. They came for the initial look in December, but that was part of Homeland Security. The financial end is coming June 25 to intersect what we have done so far,” said Getchell.

She said trustees have expended about $25,000, including on carpet removal and fumigation, oil-soiled dirt removal and on consulting services.

To make donations, send checks to Conway Village Congregational Church, P.O. Box 333, Conway 03818 or check out their GoFundMe page.