HALLOWELL — The new City Owned Property Task Force met for the first time Thursday to begin reviewing the best uses of several properties around Hallowell, including the historic fire station and the public works garage.

Mayor Mark Walker said determining the future of those buildings is the top priority of the task force, which includes Councilors Michael Frett, Diano Circo and Maureen Aucoin — the council’s Property Committee.

Task Force Co-Chairmen Frett and Frank O’Hara laid out an aggressive timeline of five meetings before presenting a final report and making a recommendation to the council during its April meeting.

“We’ve made some critical decisions in the last 12 to 24 months, and these are other ones,” Walker said.

Work to repair the structure of the nearly 190-year-old Second Street firehouse is being completed by local contractor E.J. Perry Construction for about $215,000. The project is being funded in full using money approved by voters last April as part of a $2.36 million bond package, and it should be completed by April.

The work includes shoring up the existing wooden structure, removing all basement walls, installing new exterior basement-level doors, framing a new stair system from the basement to the first floor and adding new exterior wall framing to the basement level. The work was the first phase of a two-phase process to turn the city-owned building into a more attractive property that can be an economic development opportunity for Hallowell. The second phase, the complete restoration of the wooden hose tower and other interior work, will be paid for with money raised by the Hallowell Citizens’ Initiative Committee, or the Tower Preservation Group.

“It has historic value and could be used for a couple of (things),” Walker said. “It may have even greater value to others in the private sector.”

The building — which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places — was built in 1828 as the Town Hall, then became City Hall when Hallowell became a city years later. The fire tower was added to the structure when the Hallowell Fire Department moved from Water Street. A council resolution in 2013 sought to ensure the building was preserved and maintained.

The wooden fire tower was used for decades to dry the department’s fire hoses, which were made of leather and cotton. After fighting a fire, firefighters hung the hoses inside the tower to dry. Snow, ice and water also accumulated on the hoses, so the tower was used to drip-dry the material.

The public works garage has deteriorated and has been neglected, Public Works Director Chris Buck said. The task force will be asked to decide what the best location is for the city’s Public Works Department, and if it moves, what should happen to the property where the garage currently stands.

“It’s time for a new public works garage,” Buck said. Walker reminded everyone that doing anything with any city-owned property will come with a cost, especially if the council ultimately decides to ask taxpayers to approve a bond to pay for added work to the fire station and any work related to the Public Works Department.

Aucoin said the fire station’s future is the most important issue for her, and Circo said making improvements to City Hall and making working in the building easier for the city staff is key.

“(The fire station) has got to have some sort of productive use,” Aucoin said. “We can’t just have it suck our money out.”

The large room above the fire station garage used to be where the City Council met, and the Fire Department uses it for meetings now. The room is filled with historical Fire Department memorabilia and artifacts. There has been talk of turning the space into a museum or moving the Hallowell Police Department there, and the task force will tackle those ideas in the coming months.

The Hallowell Food Bank operates under the fire station, and Jeanne Langsdorf, who runs it, is on the task force. She said the space has no heat or running water.

Frett said so much is going on in Hallowell that people might not be aware of this committee’s existence, but that will change quickly. He said committee members and councilors will be lobbied soon by residents who want to see certain outcomes related to each of the city-owned properties being discussed.

“We aren’t trying to rock the boat, but we’re riding the wave of change,” he said.

The task force plans to host a public input meeting at 7 p.m. Jan. 31 in the City Hall auditorium.

Jason Pafundi — 621-5663

[email protected]

Twitter: @jasonpafundiKJ

 

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