After an anonymous donor pledged $1 million this week for the construction a new Hallowell fire station at the Steven Commons property, the City Council voted unanimously Thursday night to rescind a January decision that would have led the city’s firefighters to leave their current station and share space in a yet-to-be-built station in Farmingdale.

Before the vote, Mayor Mark Walker called the anonymous pledge “a potentially game-changing gift,” and during a public hearing, numerous residents urged councilors to accept the large sum.

The move also had the backing of Farmingdale Selectman Jim Grant, who attended the Thursday meeting and said he would continue to advocate for a cooperative relationship between the two communities.

“You have only one decision to make tonight,” Grant told the council. “If my Select Board had this opportunity, I would make a motion that we rescind this decision and accept this gift.”

After the council’s vote, Walker said many conditions now must be met for the town to receive the $1 million gift. One of them is that the council hold a vote in early April on whether to accept it.

Another is that the town must negotiate with Matt Morrill, the owner of the Stevens Common property at the top of Winthrop Street. According to an attorney for the anonymous donor, the fire station must be built on Stevens Commons.

“As of tomorrow we will be working on this,” Walker said. “There are many different decisions that have to be made. It’s going to be a lot.”

The pledge of $1 million to pay for a new station was the latest twist in a years-long debate over the future of city fire protection services.

Hallowell’s fire station, more than 185 years old, is unsuitable for a modern fire department or its firefighters and equipment. The city has been working for more than 13 months to figure out the future of its fire protection services.

The public hearing Thursday night lasted an hour and a half and was attended by about 60 people.

It was the result of an effort by Stephen Langsdorf, a city resident and local attorney who disagreed with a decision made by the City Council earlier this year to partner with Farmingdale and move the station out of town.

Langsdorf circulated a petition that forced the council to either nullify its decision or put the question to the voters in a special election.

At the hearing, Langsdorf said he welcomed the news of the $1 million pledge and said he supports building a station in town.

“As I collected about two-thirds of the signatures (for the petition), it became clear to me that there’s very strong support for having fire services in this town,” Langsdorf said.

Former Hallowell Fire Chief Mike Grant once proposed building a public safety facility — including the Hallowell Fire and Police departments — on the Stevens Commons campus, but the plan never was considered seriously by a Fire Services Committee because of the cost.

Estimates last fall put the cost of building a station at Stevens Commons at $1.6 million. At the time, Grant said the biggest immediate need was for a free-standing garage in a lot adjacent to an existing building on the campus. He said the Erskine Building could be updated later to include living quarters for firefighters, space for the Police Department and possibly a community center.

Dan Davis, a member of the Fire Services Committee, said during the Thursday hearing that he originally had supported the move to Farmingdale but now thought the $1 million gift tilted the scale.

“I came before you a few weeks ago and supported the option of co-locating with Farmingdale,” Davis said. “At the time I was torn: Emotionally I wanted to have a our fire station, but rationally I saw a lot of advantages to sharing resources with Farmingdale.”

But given the late-breaking news of the gift, Davis continued, “my personal opinion is it would be appropriate to look at this again and consider having our own Fire Department in our own station in our city.”

Charles Eichacker — 621-5642

[email protected]

Twitter: @ceichacker

 

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