HALLOWELL — The City Properties Planning Group is discussing the future of the public works garage, a building that the department foreman said has deteriorated because of neglect.

Chris Buck, the foreman, told the group last week that the current facility on Water Street isn’t big enough for all of the department’s vehicles and there is no heated indoor space. It’s not suitable for a modern public works department, he said.

City Manager Nate Rudy said the existing 5,600-square-foot building presents operational challenges for the Public Works Department, and he said the city is looking at solutions that include enhancing the current space or building a new space.

“(The meeting) was a good opportunity to see how the public works crew functions in their current building,” Rudy said of the group’s gathering Thursday in City Hall. “There was a really good conversation about the options presented and a realization that a new public works building would probably require city investment of another bond or some other form of financing.”

The city can borrow up to $250,000 without voter approval, but Buck has estimated a new building for his department would cost at least $500,000. Rudy said a proposal that the city make that additional investment by the city is something that calls for a lot of discussion in the community.

“We’re not at that point, and we’re still talking,” he said. “We’ve got two more meetings in March and they’re open to the public, so anybody who has any ideas on what to do there is welcome.”

Mayor Mark Walker created the property planning committee — which includes councilors Michael Frett, Maureen Aucoin and Diano Circo — to look at the best uses of city-owned properly, and the mayor made finding the best future use of the 190-year-old firehouse on Second Street and the public works garage a high priority. The planning group hopes to make a recommendation to the City Council at the council’s April meeting about what to do with the two structures.

Buck said the garage, at 286 Water St., 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 structure, there is little insulation, Buck said, and the rubber roof is more than 20 years old and needs repair.

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 a space to perform equipment maintenance.

Rudy said the committee isn’t at a place where anybody is talking about securing bonds, and if that happens, the committee would have to make a request through the Property Committee, and then it would go to the City Council.

The committee met two weeks ago for about two hours to debate and discuss the best future use of the firehouse, which will be vacated when the Hallowell Fire Department moves in pril to its new home at Stevens Commons. This followed a public brainstorming meeting in late January, during which almost everyone in attendance said they favored the city retaining ownership of the firehouse. Many said they would like the Hallowell Police Department to move into the building.

The historic fire station — it is on the National Register of Historic Places — is not suitable for a modern fire department, city officials have said. The new $2 million station will be over 5,000 square feet and will include a chief’s office and conference space. It’s being paid for by an anonymous donor who initially pledged $1 million for construction costs and has increased the donation amount since then. The city will be responsible for the station’s yearly maintenance, and Fire Chief Jim Owens has said the firefighters will help maintain the station in any way they can.

As they did with the fire station, committee members expressed an attachment to the historical significance of the public works garage and what it’s meant to the city since its construction. But the building is in a visible part of the city — the north end of Water Street — and on a fast-moving thoroughfare, which presents a challenge when the department tries to move equipment.

The committee plans to meet again March 8 to discuss its findings and expects to formulate its recommendation to the Property Committee two weeks later.

Jason Pafundi — 621-5663

[email protected]

Twitter: @jasonpafundiKJ

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