Construction of Higgins Beach bathhouse could begin this fall in Scarborough

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SCARBOROUGH — By next summer, Higgins Beach may finally get the bathhouse some residents say is needed to prevent public nudity and urination near the beach.

A $288,000 bathhouse construction project is part of the fiscal 2013 capital improvement budget submitted by the Community Services Department. Unless the Town Council removes it during budget deliberations, construction could begin this fall.

“I think the town has a moral obligation to provide these kinds of facilities if we’re going to provide public parking and public beach area,” Community Services Director Bruce Gullifer said.

The bathhouse would be built near the public parking lot on Ocean Avenue, and would include changing rooms, bathrooms and an exterior rinse-off area. It would be open year-round to cater to the off-season demand of surfers and would be funded by a reserve account for beach projects.

That account is funded by the fee for beach access, and nearly always produces more money than the town spends on beach maintenance and projects. For example, the Higgins Beach parking lot was open 84 days last year. The $5 parking fee brought in nearly $23,000 in those weeks, while the town spent only about $8,750 to staff the lot.

Gullifer said preliminary plans were drawn up a year and a half ago, when the bathhouse was originally included in the construction of a public parking lot on Ocean Avenue land acquired by the town in 2010.

The parking lot was completed last summer, but the bathhouse was scrapped from the budget. Still, Gullifer said he’s optimistic it’ll pass muster this time around, especially since it won’t contribute to the tax bite.

Glennis Chabot – a member of the Higgins Beach Association and volunteer with Maine’s Healthy Beaches, an organization that monitors water quality at beaches along the state’s coast – said the association strongly supports the bathhouse project.

Chabot and her husband, Roger Chabot, who is president of the association, have distributed photos to town councilors and the press of beachgoers stripping to their skivvies along Ocean and Bayside avenues, in full view of residents. Reports of public urination at the beach have also persisted.

Chabot said she hopes the bathhouse will not only put an end to those problems, but also make the beach more attractive. She said she fields a lot of phone calls about the beach every year because of her role in Maine’s Healthy Beaches.

“A lot of parents call and when they find out there aren’t any facilities, they don’t come here,” she said. “They have (these facilities) at the other town beaches and they should have them here.”

Councilor Judy Roy, in a Finance Committee meeting Tuesday, supported the bathhouse project.

“It’s going to go a long way to hopefully correcting some off the nudity issues, hopefully,” Roy said. But she cautioned against seeing the bathhouse as a silver bullet.

“There are always going to be some people who don’t like to follow the rules, who think they’re improving the view,” she said. 

Assuming the bathhouse project goes ahead, the town will have to tear down a cottage it owns on the property where the bathhouse would be built.

That also means the town will have to revisit a lease approved last summer with the Higgins Beach Inn that allows the inn to rent and manage the cottage and share the rent revenue.

Mario Moretto can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or Follow him on Twitter: @riocarmine.

Sidebar Elements

Beach fees to increase this summer

SCARBOROUGH — Some beachgoers might see an increase in beach access fees as early as this summer. 

The proposed fiscal 2013 budget includes doubling the fee for one-day parking at Higgins Beach, from $5 to $10 per day. That puts Higgins at the same one-day price as the other two town-managed beaches, Pine Point and Ferry Beach.

Season passes to the town’s beaches will include all three beaches; in the past, Higgins Beach was not included. Those passes are also slated to increase, from $30 to $35 for residents and from $60 to $65 for nonresidents. 

Bruce Gullifer, director of Community Services, said the increases reflect the value of the beaches. 

“We’ve added another beach for the combo pass, so we felt $35 was a fair price,” Gullifer said. “And Higgins Beach will now pay what all the other beaches pay. It keeps us all in line.”

— Mario Moretto