Second Street Fire Station

The old Second Street Fire Station in Hallowell, seen on May 14, is at the corner of Second Street and Perley’s Lane. The council on Monday held a workshop in which several aspects of the building’s future were discussed, including renovating the building to move police headquarters there. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file

HALLOWELL — The fate of the city’s old fire station is currently unclear, but officials are working on a list of steps that need to be taken in deciding its future uses, which could include a food pantry, new police headquarters and leasing out space.

The city has been discussing relocating the police to the building as far back as 2018. The building was first completed in 1828 and served as the Hallowell’s Town Hall until 1899 when City Hall was built.

The council on Monday held a workshop in which several aspects of the building’s future were discussed. The meeting was split into six parts:

• The pros and cons of retaining ownership and renovating the building and retaining ownership versus putting it up for sale

• Whether it is worth pursuing a plan from Artifex Architects & Engineers to relocate the police department to the building after extensive renovation

• Discussing the status of the food station

• Discussing a bond for both the fire station and public works facilities

• Miscellaneous concerns, and

• Steps to be taken in the future

The majority of the council was in favor of keeping the building, with different conditions associated with doing so. Councilor Diana Scully said she was in favor of keeping the building and completing renovation in time for the building’s 200th anniversary.

She said the city could also consider renting out some of the building’s extra space, as opposed to outright selling it, to help finance the estimated $3.2 million bond for renovations and bringing the building up to code for a police station.

Councilor Berkeley Almand-Hunter supported keeping the building, provided the city can come up with a reasonable plan for renovation, adding that the scope of the architects’ current pitch could be reduced.

“I fully support the police department and understand that they need a new space,” said Almand-Hunter, “but I think the plan that we have is really ridiculous.”

She asked Police Chief Scott MacMaster how many officers are typically in the station simultaneously, and the chief said there are on average two.

“We have six desks,” she said, “and there are two officers in there at a time.”

MacMaster agreed with Almand-Hunter that the design was “overkill,” and thought a new, more feasible, alternative could be explored.

Councilor Kate Dufour agreed with keeping the building and using the space for the police and food pantry. She was opposed to renting out leftover space.

“I don’t want to be a landlord,” she said. “There’s no winning. Landlords make difficult decisions every day and the optics are not good.”

She said that while she understood wanting to scale back the design a bit, it is important to keep the future in consideration and build a space that could accommodate the department 10 to 15 years into the future.

Councilor Michael Frett agreed with keeping the building, creating a police space and keeping the food bank presence. He agreed with Dufour that the design should reflect the department’s next 10 to 15 years and that the city acting as a landlord would be demanding of time and attention, and also result in additional liabilities and responsibilities for the city.

Councilor Maureen AuCoin agreed with moving forward with the architects’ plan as presented, and not scaling anything back. “I think the architects’ put a ton of time and effort in assessing the needs are of police departments,” she said. “They put a lot into the design, and I would like to move forward with the design as is.”

As for the estimated $3.2 million dollar bond, she said whether or not the city accepts this is ultimately up to the community, as they will need to vote to accept the plan.

Councilor Peter Spiegel said he had concerns about the cost.

“It is going to affect everyone’s taxes going forward over the next few years as we pay this off,” he said, adding that he is willing to move forward with the plan, but that there will likely be some community pushback regarding the price tag.

Councilor Patrick Wynne supported selling the building and instead having a new purpose-built facility for the police department.

If the city does decide to keep the building, Wynne agreed with AuCoin that the best option would be to stick with the architects’ original design.

MacMaster added that, as far as renting the building is concerned, the city could think outside the box and possibly collaborate with the University of Maine at Augusta’s criminal justice programs and sublease space for students taking on an internship.

Hallowell Food Pantry Director Vicky Gabrion said that it’s difficult to apply for grants or begin fundraising to help the facility as it is unclear if the building will be sold or how renovations would affect the pantry.

“It would just be nice to know that whatever we do is part of a whole and isn’t going to waste any time, money or effort,” she said.

Mayor George Lapointe said the council could vote during a future meeting to ensure near-term certainty for the food pantry’s future.

“I think there are creative ways of thinking about how to stage that so you don’t have to wait until November 2022 or later for the vote on a bond to know what the plans are for the fire station,” he said. “That’s just my thought.”

Lapointe said he and City Manager Gary Lamb will begin work on a memo outlining future steps, and ensure that it’s made publicly available.

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