WATERVILLE — Should downtown buildings be required to use sprinkler systems? If so, which buildings?

Those are questions city councilors will discuss today as part of their ongoing effort to ensure downtown safety, according to City Manager Michael Roy.

The council also will vote whether to support a fire inspection and enforcement process for downtown buildings.

The meeting will be at 7 p.m. in the council chambers at The Center and will be preceded by a 6:45 p.m. executive session to discuss real estate negotiations.

Roy said Monday that city officials started discussing downtown fire safety enforcement after a building at 18 Main St. was damaged by fire May 3.

The sprinkler system in the building, which housed tattoo and wireless businesses on the first floor and apartment tenants upstairs, had been turned off by the owner in 2005 with an understanding that it would be turned back on if people were to live in the building, fire Chief David LaFountain said at the time.

LaFountain said if the sprinkler had been on, the fire would not have been as big. More than 30 firefighters from area towns used three aerial ladder trucks to fight the fire, an effort that cost in the tens of thousands of dollars, LaFountain estimated.

The State Fire Marshal’s office said the cause of the fire was undetermined, but said the fire started on an exterior third-floor deck, outside an apartment.

Councilors today will discuss things the city can do to ensure fire safety without being too heavy-handed, Roy said.

“I think the question is, to what degree will they (fire codes) be enforced?” he said. “Obviously, some very basic life safety and fire safety rules have to be enforced. The need for sprinklers — I think that’s the No. 1 regulation or requirement of most concern. What kind of buildings need to be sprinkled and which ones can get by without?”

Roy said he wanted downtown business owners to know the issue will be discussed so they may ask questions and give input before councilors make a decision.

“This is an opportunity to discuss the need for sprinklers in downtown buildings,” Roy said. “What the city is trying to do is ensure the maximum amount of safety for downtown buildings and residents without appearing too onerous.”

After the 18 Main St. fire, councilors formed a committee to study downtown fire safety issues, including sprinklers. LaFountain, who is authorized by law to enforce safety rules, heads up that panel.

In other matters today, the council will consider accepting a multi-year $234,900 Federal Aviation Grant to help with the design and engineering costs for reconstruction of the city-owned Robert LaFleur Municipal Airport runway. The city would pitch in $13,050 in matching funds.

The council will consider extending a lease with Waterville Regional Arts & Community Center, also known as The Center. The city spends about $28,000 a year to use the City Council chambers, space for the planning, code enforcement and city engineer’s office, and for storage. Roy said that once the basement of City Hall is renovated, the city will discontinue renting storage space at The Center and will instead store records and other paperwork in the basement. The move is estimated to save the city about $6,000 a year, he said.

Councilors will consider taking final votes to spend up to $85,000 to renovate the former police station in the City Hall basement so that the information technology department on the first floor may move there and the health and welfare waiting room may be expanded.

The council also will consider selling a city-owned house at 16 Veteran Court. It also will consider selling a small building at 70 Airport Road for $500 to JZ Aviation LLC for use as a commercial operation related to the airport.

Amy Calder — 861-9247
[email protected]