HALLOWELL — Heading into the new year, city officials are digging into the future of the former fire station at 124 Second St.

This month, city officials received an appraisal of the building they appropriated funds for in May and sent out a request for proposals for “an architectural design of a police department office.” City officials said these are the first steps in gathering a complete financial picture before they can interpret how to best move forward with the property.

Now, the station, built in 1828, houses a food bank in the basement and also holds historical artifacts. A room in the station is currently being used as a studio for artist Chris Cart, who is painting a mural to be displayed on the back of the Vallee Real Estate building at the corner of Winthrop Street and Water Street.

At the council’s Dec. 9 meeting, councilors discussed a potential request for proposals for a floor plan of a possible police station in the Second Street Fire Station. That request was posted on the city’s website on Dec. 23.

City Manager Nate Rudy said the proposal asks for a floor plan for a police station, which has long been discussed as a potential use for the station. He said it was “not a commitment” from the city council to put the city’s police department at the property, but a step in gathering information essential to making a decision. Rudy said there were “a lot of good ideas out there” for the future of the building, but he could not speak about what the council believed was the best use of the property.

The request for proposals has a deadline of Jan. 8, with a site visit planned for Tuesday, Dec. 31. When asked if that deadline was too short, Rudy said he anticipated that it would yield enough bids and the abbreviated deadline took into account the city council’s “urgency around moving this process forward” and the light nature of the scope of work.

City Councilor Maureen Aucoin said Friday that the timeline of the request for proposal could be re-drafted if it doesn’t receive a satisfactory response.

If officials decided to put the police department in the former fire station, Rudy said it would likely be a “design, bid, build” project instead of a “design-build” project like the new fire station on Coos Lane. An engineer would design the building, the project would then go out to bid based on that design, which would then be built by the winning contractors, instead of the contractor being responsible for coming up with the design as well.

Back in May, councilors voted to approve $2,750 in funding for a commercial appraisal of the former fire station by Gorham-based Maine Valuation Co. That appraisal was returned this month and it was determined that the building is worth $300,000.

Councilor Michael Frett said at the Dec. 9 meeting that the $300,000 figure is important “to weigh against whatever options the council wants to decide to go on” with the property.

The 82-page appraisal document also issued the opinion that if vacant, the property would be “maximally productive” if it was held for “development with a mixed commercial/residential use until such time as development is financially feasible.” If occupied, the “maximally productive” use would be “an owner (or) user desiring commercial and residential space for owner occupancy, possibly with ancillary rental income from the additional unused space.”

Aucoin said those best uses were likely determined through analysis of comparable sales. She said nearby properties used for reference, such as former churches and textile manufacturing buildings, are now mixed-use spaces.

“The intent of the appraisal is to determine the current market value of the building based on these (comparable) sales,” she said. “For the city, there are other factors based on community needs, fiscal considerations and long term visions.”

In June 2018, the city’s Fire Department moved to a $1.9 million station on Coos Lane in Stevens Commons paid for by an anonymous donor.

Mayor Mark Walker said Friday that the council was likely to have a “good discussion” about the future of the Second Street Fire Station at their annual retreat, scheduled for Jan. 4 at Maple Hill Farm. He described the fire station’s future as “a very high priority in 2020.”

“As a long term member of the Council and as Mayor, I hear many ideas and lots of discussions, but it’s up to the Council to weigh pros and cons and look at competing interests — which will be done this year,” Walker wrote in an email.

Aucoin said the idea for a community discussion arose because she was approached by constituents asking about the progress the city was making in determining the future of the former fire station.

“With the completion of the appraisal, there was some confusion as to the status of the property,” Aucoin said Friday. “It led to the assumption on the part of some that the City had decided to sell the property or had in fact already entered into negotiations for the sale, which is not the case at this point.”

When asked for his opinion on the best use for the property, Councilor George Lapointe said it was more important to gather up-to-date information before deciding what was best for the city.

“This information will be very important because of the impacts of the decision on city finances,” he said. “To make this important decision without this important financial information would be a disservice to the city and its residents.”

Councilors Michael Frett, Diano Circo, Patrick Wynne, Kara Walker and Kate Dufour could not be immediately reached Friday for their opinions on the best use of the station.

The city has already spent some funds on stabilizing the building. A memo written by Lapointe in February said $220,600 in bond funds was used to stabilize the building and the city spends about $20,000 a year to maintain the building. That same memo stated, based on an August 2018 report, it would cost $336,284 to fully rehabilitate the building.

Also in February, residents said at a council meeting the city’s cost estimates for repairs were too high and the city should not sell the station. Lapointe said then that selling the fire station was “off the table.”

In March 2013, councilors voted unanimously to resolve 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.”

Related Headlines


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under:

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.