HALLOWELL — The City Properties Planning Group thinks the Hallowell Police Department needs a more functional and efficient workspace, but that probably would involve renovating the first floor of the historic Second Street firehouse at a cost likely to exceed $200,000.

Several members of the 10-person committee — which includes councilors Michael Frett, Diano Circo and Maureen Aucoin — toured the 190-year-old fire station Thursday before the larger group met for more than two hours to discuss its best future use.

One of the ideas discussed by the committee, and by the public at a forum held last week, was relocating the Police Department to the firehouse once the Hallowell Fire Department moves in a few months. The committee seemed to agree that the department, which has five full-time employees, including Chief Eric Nason, and five reserve officers, needs more space. But at what cost?

The department, according to Nason, needs a general office space with two work stations, a chief’s office, a storage area, an interview room with audio and visual devices, a break room, an evidence room, staff parking, surveillance equipment and garage space for vehicle maintenance.

The department’s current space in the basement of City Hall includes an office for Nason, a common room with two workstations, a storage area down the hall and a few other rooms where ammunition, uniforms and equipment are stored. It is not conducive to running a modern police department, Nason said.

“We’ve got stuff stashed all over the place,” he said. “We’re the only department that has to store our vehicles outside because we have no garage space.”

The first floor of the Second Street fire station will be vacated early this spring when the Hallowell Fire Department moves to its new $2 million station at Stevens Commons. The new firehouse is being funded by an anonymous donor who donated the money last March to keep the firefighters in Hallowell after the council decided to lease space in a new Farmingdale fire station.

Now any and all renovations, improvements and rehabilitation to the Second Street firehouse would be paid for by the city, and therefore, by Hallowell taxpayers.

“Make no mistake about it. There are large costs associated with using any of (the firehouse) spaces,” City Manager Nate Rudy said. “The reality is the cost of doing all this work is something we have to consider.”

Architect Rosie Curtis, who designed the new fire station, presented the group with a basic design for what a new police headquarters would look like on the first floor of the current firehouse. There would be a 22-foot-by-29-foot garage, a chief’s office, a large room for two officer workstations, an interview room, an evidence storage area, a break room and a small locker room. There would be the opportunity to expand the space into the wooden section of the firehouse, if needed, but Curtis’ plan didn’t show how that would look.

Curtis estimated that renovating that new space would cost $150,000 to $170,000, but Circo said it would be “considerably more” because the new police headquarters would need all new furnishings.

“It doesn’t seem feasible to ask the Police Department to take the stuff they have now and walk down Second Street carrying desks and chairs,” Circo said.

At its first meeting, Mayor Mark Walker told the group that determining the future use of the fire station — and the public works garage — is the top priority of the task force.

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 second phase of the project would include installing a new elevator and a new stairwell, among other improvements, and is estimated to cost at least $250,000. A nonprofit organization is working to raise money for that project, but Circo said the city probably would have to contribute some if the second phase was going to be completed.

“I have not seen any scenario where we wouldn’t have to (go to) bond,” Circo said.

The working group also discussed building a police station, but while that might seem like a cost-effective idea on the surface, the cost rises when factoring in the purchase of land for the station. Building a combined public facility that would include the Police and Public Works departments also was discussed briefly, and the topic might come up again in future discussions.

The Second Street firehouse — 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.

Now, in addition to the Fire Department, the Hallowell Food Bank operates in the firehouse; and a collection of historic artifacts and Fire Department memorabilia is being stored on the second floor. There has long been talk of turning the space into a museum, in addition to relocating the Police Department, ideas the task force will continue to discuss in the coming months.

“That space on the second floor has been the subject of discussion for a long time,” group member Gerry Mahoney said. “It would seem to be the ideal venue for a museum.”

The second floor now has historical Fire Department artifacts scattered along the walls of the central meeting room, and there are other pieces of Hallowell history at the Maine State Archives, at Hubbard Free Library and in private collections. Mahoney said there never has been a museum or historical society in Hallowell.

“There’s a need,” he said. “The old meeting space doesn’t lend itself to anything other than a community space, like a museum.”

Committee member Jeanne Langsdorf, one of the directors of the food bank, said she understands the Police Department’s need for a better space, but she isn’t sure the firehouse is the best option. She also said she doesn’t think the city should consider renting the apartment in the firehouse to a private tenant.

“I feel the fire station is being suggested (for the police) because it’s available at this very moment,” Langsdorf said.

Committee co-chairman Frank O’Hara led the discussion and offered his thoughts at the end of the meeting. He said he is comfortable with the idea of relocating the Police Department to the first floor, but he isn’t thrilled about the plan.

“I’m interested in something on the first floor that gets me excited, but I don’t have it right now,” O’Hara said.

The committee is expected to make a recommendation to the City Council on what to do with the fire station before the council’s April 9 meeting. In two weeks, it will tackle the future of the public works garage, which Public Works Foreman Chris Buck said has deteriorated over the years because of neglect.

The 5,600-square-foot building was built in the mid- to late 1800s and has two garage doors, which Buck said makes it difficult to get trucks and equipment inside. Because of the brick construction, there is little insulation, and the rubber roof is more than 20 years old and in need of repairs.

Buck said the department needs a new garage and a separate covered building for sand and salt. He would like seven or eight vehicle bays with an inside washing area for the winter, an office, a break room, a shower and space to perform equipment maintenance.

Jason Pafundi — 621-5663

[email protected]

Twitter: @jasonpafundiKJ

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