The Winthrop Town Council agreed this week to seek bids on construction of a fire station, a project that could cost about $2.1 million, despite ongoing concerns about the financial belt-tightening that might be required in coming years to resolve a $700,000 shortfall in the School Department’s budget.

Councilors voted 4-3 at a meeting Monday night to approve seeking bids for the station, a project that has been in the works for several years and that would be built on town-owned land on U.S. Route 202.

A private donor has pledged $450,000 in grant funding for the project, according to Winthrop Fire Chief Dan Brooks, and several councilors said they did not want to risk losing that extra funding by waiting any longer to seek bids for the new station.

“This half a million dollars is a big savings for the town of the Winthrop,” said Councilor Richard Henry, who is a firefighter. “I might be a little vested here, being on the Fire Department, but this is a huge coupon to pass up, the opportunity to have a new fire station and save this exorbitant amount of money.”

Council Chairwoman Sarah Fuller and councilors Richard Henry, David Bubier and Linda Caprara voted in support of seeking bids from construction companies. Councilors Linda MacDonald, Priscilla Jenkins and Barbara Buck voted against seeking the bids in the near future.

MacDonald said she couldn’t support the project until the town has a better idea of how it will resolve the $700,000 school funding shortfall. That shortfall was the result of an error made more than a year ago, but that local officials did not discover until late last summer.

In recent weeks, town and school officials have traded blame for the mistake, but in early December, both sides agreed to form a joint committee that will work to prevent similar errors from happening in the future.

“I’m not for it,” MacDonald said of seeking bids for the fire station. “I think with this other (school funding) issue, we have to get rid of that one before I can make a decision on this one.”

But supporters of going forward with fire station project were encouraged that the projected cost for the new station has decreased recently.

Brooks — who has been working with engineers and architects to test the proposed construction site, design the station and get cost estimates — said the latest estimate is $2,110,973.

Supporters also argue that the project — as currently proposed — would not add any costs to the municipal budget, because it would be paid for with a 25-year-loan. The town would make annual repayments of $119,973 on that loan, which is less than the $127,000 in annual repayments the town already was making on another loan that was retired this year.

The new station would replace the nearly 70-year-old station the department currently uses on Main Street. Parking is limited there, and traffic has to be blocked when trucks exit and enter, Brooks has said. Built in 1947, its floor is not strong enough to support a new engine the department also is hoping to acquire.

At this week’s meeting, council members also unanimously voted to allow the town to borrow up to $850,000 this year to help the town pay its bills before property taxes are due this spring.

While the town normally allows a certain amount of borrowing for that purpose, Town Manager Peter Nielsen said more will need to be borrowed this year because of cash flow problems related to the school funding shortfall.

Charles Eichacker — 621-5642

[email protected]

Twitter: @ceichacker

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