The old Hallowell Fire Department station on Second Street, seen in 2020, may be the subject of a nonbinding question for voters this November as officials look to spend up to $4 million to renovate the building for new uses. The structure was built in 1828. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file

HALLOWELL — City officials are considering a nonbinding referendum question on the November ballot asking voters if they would support spending up to $4 million to renovate the city’s nearly 200-year-old fire station.

Under the plan, there would be a new police department space on the middle floor, the food pantry to continue in the basement and with more space, and for most of the top floor to be used as community meeting or museum space.

The city voted in January to keep the nearly 200-year-old fire former fire station on 124 Second St., and officials have been discussing uses for the building for several years.

The city last year heard a presentation from Bangor-based Artifex Architects & Engineers about how the building could be brought into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The overall project cost was estimated at $3.2 million, which includes all material costs and estimates for general conditions, overhead and profit, design contingency, escalation, bond and insurance.

Councilors were split on whether or not to pursue this plan, with the primary disagreement being whether or not it was reasonable to bring the police department from its current 800-square-foot station in the city hall basement to a proposed 4,000 square feet at the former fire station.

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City Manager Gary Lamb said during a Monday night council meeting that he has returned to Artifex with the city’s concerns, and that they’re currently working out if $120,000 would be sufficient to address the police department’s structural needs.

Councilor Michael Frett agreed with putting the question on the November ballot.

“I think at this point we need to have the backing of citizenry weighing on that decision,” he said, “and I think this is an excellent way to do that. I would move for, or like to see us move to finalize those questions so we know they’re in place.”

Councilor Kate Dufour agreed, and suggested that city officials also develop an educational campaign regarding the project, despite the fact that the election question would nonbinding and would not carry legal force.

The council also discussed a second question about the possible construction of a new multi-bay public works facility in an amount not to exceed $2 million in local monies. Lamb, however, said that the city has been in talks with Farmingdale about potentially sharing a public works department build, which may mean the question isn’t needed.

Frett added that, if Farmingdale and Hallowell do collaborate, they may be eligible for state funding since it would be a move in a more regional, collaborative, direction.

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Councilor Berkeley Almand-Hunter asked about the city’s progress with funding for the fire station, and Mayor George Lapointe said officials applied for $3.2 million, the figure Artifex provided, through the office of U.S. Sen. Susan Collins.

“I don’t know what kind of chance we have amongst all the other funding sources, but it was an easy thing to request and so that is in flight,” said Lapointe, adding that they have a number of letters supporting their request.

When asked about a deadline for the November referendum questions, City Clerk Diane Polky said the questions must be submitted by the city’s Sept. 12 council meeting.

“That’s a drop dead deadline, because of absentee voting,” she said.

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