Second Street Fire Station

The old Second Street Fire Station in Hallowell, seen in May, is at the corner of Second Street and Perley’s Lane. City leaders approve funds to study the feasibility of moving the police department to the building. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file

HALLOWELL — City councilors approved up to $25,000 in tax-increment financing district funding to study the cost of moving the city’s police department into the Second Street Fire Station.

The expense was approved by a 6-1 vote Monday night, with City Councilor Patrick Wynne dissenting.

City staff will begin preparing a request for proposals which will ask for a set of plans for “adaptive reuse” of the building, along with a space for the city’s police department.

Wynne said the study was “money being tossed into a rabbit hole” and harkened back to a community discussion that took place in January that he believed discouraged the idea of moving the police department into the old fire station.

At that forum, Malley Weber, owner of Hallowell Clay Works, floated the idea of an arts and cultural center in the building. Weber did not submit a proposal in response to a request sent out in September, though a draft proposal was circulated early this year.

“I feel like we left that community forum with a clear understanding that the police station option was not the path forward,” Wynne said Monday night. “I don’t think we should be making a three- or four-decade decision based on a bad economic environment.”

City Councilor George Lapointe said Monday night the council still has “a ton of decisions to make before we make the big step,” but supported the study because it would help inform further steps in finding the best use for the property.

City Councilor Mike Frett said the movement of the police department is an option that’s open for consideration and the study is an “investment in finding out what it would cost.”

In October, the council rejected the only proposal to Hallowell’s request for proposals after an executive session. The proposal, by Hallowell resident Eric Perry, owner of E.J. Perry Construction, and his wife, Pamela, would have seen the couple purchase the building for $10,500 and put in public bathrooms, apartments and an arts and cultural center.

Right now, the police department operates out of a couple of small rooms in the basement of City Hall. Police Chief Scott MacMaster said he supported moving the police department into the Second Street Fire Station because it would give the department more storage space and remain accessible for downtown residents.

“It’s a centrally located building for folks to be able to walk to the police department for complaints or assistance,” he said.  “It gets us out of the basement. The City Hall has run out of storage space and we ran out of space, probably 20 years ago.”

City Manager Nate Rudy said the request for proposals is the first step in a design, bid and build process. This expenditure, he said, is for the design portion, which will allow the project to be put out to bid. After the bids, city officials would be able to discuss how the project would be funded, or whether to fund it at all.

The Second Street Fire Station was built in 1828 and served as the Town Hall until 1899. The Hallowell Fire Department moved out of the old Second Street building and in 2018 began working out of a new fire station on donated land in Stevens Commons on Winthrop Street. Currently, the building now houses the Hallowell Food Bank.

Since the fire department’s move, residents and city officials have debated the best use of the building. On Jan. 3, an informal poll taken during 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.

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.

In December 2019, a real estate appraisal valued the property at $300,000.

Also Monday, City Councilors approved three other TIF expenditures:

• Councilors approved $12,000 to match funds from the Maine Department of Transportation for a pedestrian crossing at the corner of High and Winthrop streets, near Stevens Commons. Rudy said this work would likely be done next spring.

• Councilors approved an appropriation of $6,428.45 in TIF funds to be given to Community Housing of Maine as part of their credit enhancement agreement.

• Councilors approved an appropriation of $14,500 to E.J. Perry Construction to repair the roof over the wooden section of the Second Street Fire Station.

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