Second Street Fire Station

The old fire station on Second Street in Hallowell, seen May 14, 2019, is at the corner of Second Street and Perley’s Lane.

HALLOWELL — City residents floated the idea Monday night of creating a craft and cultural center and discussed the prospect of putting the Police Department in the former fire station on Second Street.

Dozens of residents discussed these options and others during a public hearing at City Hall, which was opened by Mayor Mark Walker and moderated by Frank O’Hara.

“This is a very historic building,” Walker said. “It includes a lot of financial considerations for the city. We’ve got to get it right.”

The station, built in 1828, houses a food bank in the basement and also holds historical artifacts. A room at the station is also being used as a studio for artist Chris Cart.

The forum began with six councilors expressing what information would help them in making their decision. Many councilors said they wanted to see the historic building preserved.

Councilor Diano Circo said it was important for residents to recognize that many city properties, including the City Hall and Public Works garage, are deteriorating and will likely need work soon.

“We have a lot of infrastructure issues with our buildings,” he said. “As you’re thinking about this, let us know where (it) is with your priorities.”

Malley Weber, owner of Hallowell Clayworks, said she envisioned the fire station as a “craft and cultural center,” with space for craftspeople, a meeting room, public restrooms and other community amenities.

“It’s right in the heart of Hallowell,” she said. “I look at this building and I see the potential there.”

Cart supported the idea of a makerspace, adding that it could be a destination for people to see the “cool stuff that’s happening in Hallowell” as its happening. He said he opens his studio at the station and has 10 to 20 people per week stop by and watch him paint.

When asked how a space like this would be funded,  Weber said it would likely be run by a nonprofit, which would offer the opportunity to apply for grants. Further, she said passionate people would be willing to contribute funds and time for the projects.

Helene Farrar, a Manchester artist and the board vice president of Hallowell’s Harlow Gallery, shared a vision similar to Weber’s, but said she hoped the building could be the home of an “umbrella organization” that made Hallowell more of a destination for people from other communities to come and enjoy the city’s arts and culture.

City officials seem to be split on the best uses for the property. An informal poll taken Jan. 3 at a City Council retreat showed four of seven councilors — Kate Dufour, Michael Frett, George Lapointe and Patrick Wynne — supported a plan that would preserve certain aspects of the Second Street fire station by either leasing parts of the building or selling parts, with covenants.

In March 2018, the Kennebec Journal reported the City Properties Planning Group unanimously recommended moving the Police Department to the first floor of the Second Street fire station. Since then, the idea has been considered as a favorable use of the property if the city maintains ownership of the property. During his introduction Monday night, Walker said the city was using $800,000 as a figure for the entire project.

A memorandum written by Lapointe on Feb. 5, 2019, said that based on an August 2018 report, it would cost $336,284 to fully rehabilitate the building. The police station conversion would cost an additional $170,000 to $250,000.

The city has already spent $220,600 in bond funds to stabilize the building and about $20,000 a year to maintain the building. City Manager Nate Rudy said there will likely be additional plumbing, electrical and painting costs with any future rehabilitation efforts.

A resident asked if there were other plans to relocate the Police Department. Circo said the city’s property committee estimated a cost of $500,000 to build a basic police station, but there was not a lot of land downtown for it.

Resident Cary Colwell said she would not want the police station to be outside of downtown because many of the calls would be centered around Water Street, which is highly traveled and features a lot of nightlife compared to other area municipalities.

“It’s the most cost-effective way to get them out of the space,” she said. “It’s far less expensive than building a new building.”

Resident Bob Stubbs said putting the police station in the old fire station would help protect artifacts housed in the building, which he said are worth “hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

Resident Earle Shettleworth said the city should take a “creative approach” if officials decide to offload the building. He said the city could ask for proposals on what will be done for the property, rather than just selling it to the highest bidder.

“You could have a combination of people in city government and citizens review these proposals,” he said.

Shettleworth also said any covenants used to protect the building should include a timeline for realizing the proposal so development does not stall.

The Kennebec Journal requested documents from the city regarding revenues and expenditures related to the property since the Fire Department moved out in June 2018. Rudy said no revenue was generated by renting the building during that time, but he has not finished compiling the data.

A resident asked if money given to the Hallowell Citizen’s Initiative, a group tasked with preserving the former fire station through a grant from Kennebec Savings Bank, would have to be returned if the city were to sell the building. Walker said the grant money has been spent to repair the hose tower and wooden portion of the building, and he was not sure if the grant was contingent on city ownership.

In May 2019, councilors approved $2,750 in funding for a commercial appraisal of the former fire station by Gorham-based Maine Valuation Co. That appraisal, received in December, showed the building to be worth $300,000.

The appraisal document included the opinion that if vacant, the property would be “maximally productive” if it were 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.”

Councilor Maureen Aucoin said those best uses were based on sales of comparable properties, and the city would also have to consider “community needs, fiscal considerations and long-term visions.”

In March 2013, councilors voted unanimously 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.”

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