HALLOWELL — The city has reached an agreement to build a fire station using up to $1 million in donated funds on the site of an existing building at the Stevens Commons complex, the latest step toward rebuilding the city’s Fire Department.
The deal with Stevens Commons developer Matt Morrill was announced in a news release from city attorney Amy Tchao. The station will be built where the Farwell Building now stands, behind the Stevens Building on Coos Lane. The building, which most recently was used as office space for the probation and parole board of the Central Maine Pre-Release Center, will be torn down to make way for the new station.
Fire Chief Jim Owens identified the site as best suited for the Fire Department’s needs.
“This is a trifecta and I couldn’t be happier,” Mayor Mark Walker said. “We are going to be able to accept the enormously generous donation being made to the city, we are going to be able to locate our Fire Department in an advantageous location in the city, and the revitalization of Stevens Commons is becoming a reality.”
In late March, an anonymous donor pledged up to $1 million for a new fire station, but the gift was contingent on the station being built at Stevens Commons. City officials and Morrill spent the last weeks working out many of the details ahead of an April 20 donor-imposed deadline.
“This wasn’t controversial, but there were a lot of moving parts,” Walker said. “We had to put (the deal) into writing and spent some time reviewing the final changes, and it was signed, sealed and delivered by late afternoon (Thursday).”
The city and Morrill have yet to work out any financial details regarding the site, but the deadline required only an agreement to build the station at Stevens Commons. Walker said they’ve agreed to make those final decisions at a later time, and there are many options available, including the city buying that parcel of land for a negotiated amount.
“We knew under the circumstances of the donor deadline that every last detail would not be completed,” Walker said. The next deadline — June 20 — is for the city to be under contract with a builder to construct the station.
The city will begin meeting to discuss specific designs and architecture for the building, and Walker said there would likely be a fast-tracked program to find a contractor. The mayor is hopeful that despite the aggressive timeline, the station will be completed before a Water Street reconstruction project begins in April 2018.
Hallowell’s Fire Department and fire services future was under the microscope over the past 14 months. The Fire Services Committee spent more than a year researching what the best option would be moving forward and made a recommendation to the council to contract for fire services with the Augusta Fire Department. However, the council unanimously voted instead to lease space in an unbuilt station in Farmingdale.
A petition circulated by Hallowell resident and Augusta city attorney Stephen Langsdorf called the council’s decision into question and forced councilors to re-examine their choice. The choice to rescind the Farmingdale decision was an easy one after the anonymous pledge was announced.
Former Hallowell Fire Chief Mike Grant last year proposed building a fire station next to the Erskine Building in the center of the Stevens Commons campus. That proposal was part of a multi-phase plan that would have turned the Erskine Building into a public safety facility and community center.
Hallowell’s current fire station, off Second Street, is more than 186 years old and cannot support the equipment of a modern fire department. Grant thought it was important to keep a fire department within the city limits, and over time, there was more and more public support for Hallowell having its own department.
City Manager Nate Rudy and Owens have held preliminary discussions on what the new fire station will look like, and more of those conversations are expected in the coming weeks.
Morrill, who acquired the Stevens Commons property from the state about a year ago, thinks this is another important step in the rebirth of the 54-acre campus, which he hopes will become a centerpiece of Hallowell real estate.
“This has been another opportunity to work with the city as a partner in revitalizing Stevens Commons into a vibrant mixed use campus,” Morrill said. “With this addition, we introduce a municipal use to the campus and play a small role in addressing the city’s need for location its high-quality fire protection services.”
Hallowell voters go to the polls April 28 to approve or deny a $2.36 million bond package, which includes $600,000 to fund infrastructure improvements on the Stevens Commons property.
Jason Pafundi — 621-5663