HALLOWELL — Talks about the future of the city’s historic fire station reheated at Monday’s City Council meeting.

A Feb. 5 memo from Councilor George Lapointe sparked conversation about the old fire station. He told the Kennebec Journal Monday that the memo did not advocate for one solution over another but simply restarted the pursuit for a solution.

“(The memo) really is just to focus the conversation, it’s easy to let the issue go,” Lapointe said. “It’s not being used is just not helpful in the long run.”

A cable wrapped around the hose tower and connecting it to the rest of the building, seen Sept. 14, 2017, on the old Hallowell Fire Department on Second Street in Hallowell.

Lapointe’s memo said full rehabilitation, based on numbers from an August 2018 report, would cost $336,284, in addition to $220,600 in bond funds used to stabilize the building. If the police department were to move into the building, he said it could additionally cost between $170,000 and $250,000. The memo said the city spends about $20,000 a year to maintain the building.

“The building’s empty a lot of the time,” Lapointe said during the meeting. “That’s an expensive endeavor.”

The memo said a timetable for any decision should be made to keep the project on track. Before the meeting, Lapointe said the city has a number of projects, including modernizing the city’s Public Works Garage, that would have to be taken into account along with the former fire station’s future before budgeting funds for the next fiscal year.

“The cost of carrying our city buildings is very real, and it’s something we need to pay attention to,” he said.

One of the most popular scenarios for the old fire station would be to move the city’s police department there. Planning Board chair Danielle Obery, who is also part of Hallowell’s Citizen’s Initiative Committee, said she would prefer to see the city retain ownership of the historic building.

“Aside from the artifacts in the building, it was the first city hall,” she said. “It’s one of the last wooden fire towers.”

Obery said the city would experience a population bump soon, citing a new senior housing development and student apartments being built in Stevens Commons, which could require more police protection. She said the current police station, which is confined to a small space in the City Hall, is too cramped to afford expansion.

“We’re increasing our population, and we’re going to need police protection,” she said, ahead of Monday’s meeting. “It makes senses that we would put (the police department in the fire in the old station and) we don’t own any building other than the Public Works Building.”

Rudy said during the meeting that the station is not up to “modern” standards for a police station.

An August 2018 report published by Hallowell’s City Properties Planning Committee studied the fire station issue and gave three potential options: move the police department to the building and retain city ownership, lease or sell the building, or research more options. Lapointe’s memo gave two new options, rehabilitating the building for multiple city uses, including renting an apartment in the building for city income or selling it with covenants to “ensure the character of the building is maintained.”

Historical markers beside the front door of the old Hallowell Fire Department on Second Street in Hallowell are seen on Sept. 14, 2017.

Lapointe floated sending out a request for proposals for the sale of the building before deciding to sell or lease the building to gauge interest. This final decision would likely be prefaced by a public hearing.

“If there is serious interest in this option, we can then make a fact-based decision on pursuing this option if that is the ultimate decision on the future of the building,” Lapointe wrote. “With this information, we can weigh the costs and benefits of keeping the building or entering into a lease or sale arrangement.”

In March 2013, councilors voted unanimously to resolve that it was in “the best interest” of the city to “take steps to ensure the Fire Station building is maintained and preserved for the future … and that it remains under the care and supervision of the city … by ownership or covenant.”

City Manager Nate Rudy said the council has a number of proposals on the table for use of the old fire station, but no decisions have been made. Lapointe quickly shut down a speaker who said he had heard the fire station was being sold.

“No, no, no, that’s off the table,” Lapointe said.

Councilors were apprehensive of taking next steps before knowing how costs of capital projects would affect the property tax rate. Lapointe said the council’s Finance Committee would tackle some specifics at their meeting on Feb. 19.

Councilor Michael Frett said the decision was going to come down to “hard-knuckle facts” about the cost of the station.

“I do definitely support that we take the approach we are taking to hear the voices and hear the facts,” he said. “I do not advocate at all getting rid of it … we need to preserve it.”

Resident Sandy Stubbs said the council should have two public meetings before reaching a decision.

“(The citizens) have the right to speak up,” she said. “I think the prices that you have come up with … is a little high.”

Resident Gail Schade, also a member of the Citizen’s Initiative Committee, said the group has raised $50,000 to help save the old station. She balked at the notion of selling the station.

“For me, to see that this building just might be sold and changed is upsetting,” Schade said. “Are we going to give our donors back the $50,000 that we earned?”

No related action was taken on Monday night.

OTHER BUSINESS

Hallowell firefighters and Pinnacle Tree Service Workers remove the sign from the old Hallowell Fire Department on Second Street on June 12 in Hallowell.

Councilors approved artist Chris Cart to use a room on the second floor of the old fire station to paint sections of a mural commissioned by Chris Vallee. The mural, which will be on the back wall of Vallee’s building at the corner of Water Street and Winthrop Street, has been in the works since January, and it’s likely to be installed by summer.

No fee will be paid in order to use the room, according to Rudy. He said the room sees irregular use from committees but is not currently being used. He also said the city frequently waives rental fees for the City Hall Auditorium for community groups, and no similar fee has been charged for the room in the fire station.

“It’s such a rare and unique occurrence,” he said. “So long as the city owns the building, we want to keep it in advantageous use for the community.”

“To my knowledge, we don’t charge a use fee for that space,” Rudy added. “It’s certainly not a big revenue item.”

Obery asked Cart how he would protect artifacts being stored on the second floor from damage during his creative process. Councilor Michael Frett worked protection of the artifacts — via a written agreement between the city and Cart — into his motion, which passed unanimously.

“There’s room to move those out of my firing range,” Cart said.

Cart said during the meeting he would allow the public into the space for “open studio days.”

The council also approved a “findings of fact” related to the licensing controversy for downtown medical marijuana businesses. The five-page document outlines the licensing process starting with the lottery in December.

Rudy said the signing of the findings of fact started the 30-day period that Cannabis Healing Center Owner Derek Wilson could appeal. At the end of that period, provisions placed on Homegrown the Offering owner Catherine Lewis’ license would be lifted.

 

Sam Shepherd — 621-5666
[email protected]
Twitter: @SamShepME


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