Visitors to Bryson City will have a free place to go when nature calls once public restrooms are installed in the historic courthouse.
There are plans for the now-vacant courthouse to one day be home to a visitor’s center manned by the Great Smoky Mountains Association and a museum.
But for now, commissioners want to move forward with installing public bathrooms instead of waiting for the rest of the project to come online.
Putting men’s and women’s facilities into the historic structure will cost around $50,000. The county will pay for it with interest earned off the North Shore Road cash settlement.
This would be only the second project paid for with the long-awaited money, yet commissioners didn’t specifically vote on the measure. It will be embedded as a line item in the county’s budget.
The project idea was discussed in a county budget work session on Monday. The four commissioners at the meeting came to a consensus on the plan, and County Manager Kevin King made an administrative amendment to the proposed budget to include the bathroom costs.
The project will get the go-ahead if the budget is approved as-is at the commissioners’ next meeting on August 8.
Commissioners expressed their support of the idea, which would be the first phase of the old courthouse’s revitalization.
“That’d be the first step,” said Commissioner Donnie Dixon. “I think we should.”
The final two portions of the revamp — the museum and visitor’s center, which might also feature a bookstore — must be completed simultaneously, said King.
He hopes they can be finished within the next two years.
What will be done with the remainder of the North Shore interest money this year, another $135,000 or so, remains to be seen.
Earlier in the summer, commissioners were ambivalent when asked about plans for the cash, as there was so little of it built up.
Several were in favor of a committee populated by community members that would vet and recommend projects, but no moves have been made to form such a body.
The first allocation from cash settlement money funded five granite pedestals outside the county’s administration marking major events in Swain’s history. The $20,000 pedestals were partially funded by a $7,500 grant.
The settlement is compensation from the federal government for a road that was flooded by the creation of Fontana Lake during WWII. The county has $12.8 million in the bank and is supposed to eventually receive $52 million.
The money itself will remain untouched, held in trust for the county by the N.C. Treasury Department, but the county gets the yearly interest. The funds made less than 2 percent return this fiscal year which was paid out at the end of June.