AUGUSTA — Proposals to borrow $6 million to renovate and expand Hartford Fire Station, which officials say is one of the oldest central fire stations in Maine, and $1.3 million for street and sidewalk improvements are up for voter approval Nov. 8.

The 1920 Hartford Fire Station’s age — Chief Roger Audette believes Brunswick’s fire station may be the only central fire station older than Hartford in Maine — makes it unique and historic, but because it was built in a time when firefighting equipment was only just transitioning from horse-drawn apparatus to motorized fire trucks, also means it was not designed for today’s much larger, heavier fire trucks, nor is it meant to accommodate the Emergency Medical Services, or EMS, calls which make up the bulk of the department’s calls today.

“We’re pushing 100 years operating out of this building, and we’re really crammed for space,” Fire Chief Roger Audette said of the city’s central fire station which overlooks downtown Water Street from Rines Hill. “Hartford has served us very well. For the money invested in 1920, it really lasted. We should be able to get another 50, 60, 70 years out of it with an addition there. Expand it and take care of the structural problems in the older part of the station, make it safe.”

The station’s garage bays are so narrow today’s modern firetrucks won’t fit into them, nor will the station’s garage floor, which is suspended over a basement, safely support the weight of today’s trucks, which Audette said weigh four or five times what a motorized fire truck weighed when the station was built.

EMS services, such as ambulance calls, currently account for about 80 percent of the department’s 5,000 annual calls. Hartford and all of the city’s other current fire stations were built before EMS calls were part of the fire department’s responsibilities.

“We have a lot of additional responsibilities and services we provide now, like EMS, which is the bulk of what we do,” Audette said. “We have five ambulances and all the equipment needed for that, and personnel on duty 24 hours a day.”

The station’s issues would be addressed by an expansion of the old brick station toward Gage Street, which officials said could mean that short section of Gage Street may need to be discontinued.

The addition would have two, large, drive-through garage bays and two, smaller, back-in bays, while the station’s existing four smaller bays would be used to park ambulances, pickup trucks and other lighter pieces of equipment.

Audette said the basement of the old building may be filled in, although other solutions to the structural issues of the floor are also possible.

Officials said the station is in an ideal location on top of a hill overlooking the city it was built to protect. A 2008 Matrix Consulting Group study concluded Hartford Station is ideally located to be the city’s central fire station, being so close to the downtown, but also within easy reach of many of the city’s neighborhoods.

“The location of Hartford is perfect,” Mayor David Rollins said, referring to the Matrix study. “And it is also a historic landmark, so it keeps the character of the town here.”

Rollins said he supports the proposal to borrow $6 million to expand and renovate the fire station because it is needed to move the strategically well-placed station into the 21st century.

And, Rollins noted, borrowing the funds for the fire station, as well as another $1.3 million for street and sidewalk improvements, is not expected to require an increase in property taxes.

City officials have been aware of the need to upgrade the station for years, and they have designated tax revenue to be collected in multiple Tax Increment Financing districts in the city to help pay for fire station improvements. Ralph St. Pierre, finance director and assistant city manager, said the project would be funded primarily from TIFs collecting revenue from taxes on natural gas pipelines installed in the city in recent years. He said those TIFs are projected to bring in enough money to pay the cost of debt for the fire station. Thus, he said, it would have no impact on property taxes.

“The opportunity to pay for (the fire station and street work) without a tax increase couldn’t be better,” Rollins said. “It’s kind of like payback for the taxpayers for having to put up with all those traffic delays and construction” when gas lines were buried alongside and under city streets a few years ago.

A new $4 million fire station is under construction now in north Augusta at the intersection of Leighton Road and Anthony Avenue. Hartford is expected to remain the city’s central fire station even with the new, smaller station, which is expected to be ready in February.

In a separate referendum question, voters will also be asked to borrow just under $1.3 million for street and sidewalk improvements. Reconstruction work, funded by the proposed bond, would take place on Commercial Street and Cross Hill Road with $120,000 of it funding sidewalk repairs and $650,000 of the bond paying for paving on multiple streets throughout the city.

Like the $6 million for the fire station expansion, the $1.3 million would be paid back with TIF funds and thus have no direct impact on the property tax rate.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj


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