The Second Street façade of the former fire house in downtown Hallowell. The basement houses the Hallowell Food Pantry and the first floor bays where the fire engine used to be is used for storage. Councilors are seeking voter input on whether to spend up to $5 million renovating the building to provide community meeting rooms and office space for the city’s police department in addition to the food pantry. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file

HALLOWELL — The City Council recently approved the wording for two referendum questions that will be on the ballot in the November election, with one pertaining to the city’s historic fire station building and the other about acquiring land for the construction of a new multi-bay public works facility.

Both of the questions are nonbinding, which means the city is not obligated to take specific action based on how residents vote.

City officials have discussed the future of the old fire station since it was relocated to Stevens Commons in 2018, particularly the possibility of moving the police department in the building — and out of city hall — while keeping the Hallowell Food Pantry in the old fire station’s basement.

From there, the council heard a presentation from Artifex Architects & Engineers of Bangor in late 2021 for the project. It was estimated to cost roughly $3.2 million, and was met with mixed reactions from councilors who felt having the police move from 800 square feet to 4,000 square feet was overkill.

They then voted in early 2022 to keep the building under city ownership and to further explore the possible uses such as renovating it for the police.

The referendum question, as approved by councilors, asks voters if they support a renovation of the fire station with the police on the middle floor, the food pantry staying in the basement but with more space, and for most of the top floor to be used as community meeting or museum space.


The question states that the project will cost an estimated $4 million to $5 million, and the explanatory note clarifies that the architect’s original estimate of $3.2 million was made in June 2021.

And while the city is pursuing a new design, the bulk of the costs in Artifex’s presentation were primarily structural and mechanical and related to bringing the building up to ADA compliance, not the configuration of the space itself.

City Manager Gary Lamb said the question was originally written as “not to exceed” $4 million, but that he wasn’t comfortable with that wording, as the final costs may be higher due to uncertainties with inflation and the construction industry.

And because the city didn’t have any money in the budget for an architect this fiscal year, Lamb said Sal Cardinale, a University of Maine at Augusta student who has design experience in the private sector, was willing to help create floor plans based on feedback from city officials.

“These are not architectural drawings,” Lamb said. “They’re just floor plans.”

Lamb said that, even after Artifex whittled down the design, the property committee thought it was “still too much.”


“We asked (Cardinale) to give us a different floor plan for the public to comment on and for the property committee to understand,” he said.

Cardinale’s design has the police department taking up most of the middle floor and one third of the top floor, with two thirds of the top floor set aside as a possible public meeting space or museum and the bottom floor continuing to house the food pantry. Lamb said the floor plan will “probably be significantly changed” once it is finalized by an architect.

If the majority of residents are in favor of the project, Lamb said he would suggest that the city go out to bid for architectural services.

“We can do that essentially without any money in the budget, and I think we can pull that off before the end of the winter,” he said. “Then we could have something in the budget next year, or go to bond at the June election for the whole enchilada, and actually do one or both, depending on what the voters say.”

For the new public works facility, Lamb said the city will need at least 2 acres, and that the best spot in the city would be near the recreational area with a reservoir that is used to store drinking water. That’s about 2 miles from the middle of the city, which Lamb said would be ideal, since residents would not have to look at equipment throughout the whole summer.

But the city is also in talks with Farmingdale and Manchester about collaborating and sharing resources, particularly with public works.


Both towns have no plows or salt, and hire private companies to do public works tasks. Lamb said Manchester, for example, has an ideal piece of property close to the Hallowell city line that may work as a spot for a shared public works facility.

Elected officials and municipal managers from Hallowell, Manchester and Farmingdale will meet at the Hallowell City Hall auditorium at 6:30 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 17, to discuss municipal cooperation and potential savings. Lamb said there will be a focus on public works, but that “any and all ideas are on the table.”

On Tuesday, Oct. 18, the city will also hold a candidates night in the auditorium at 6:30 p.m. City Clerk Diane Polky said there are no contested races this year.

Incumbent Peter Spiegel is running for a councilor-at-large seat and Ryan Martin is running to be Ward 3 councilor, a seat currently held by Diana Scully.

Aimee Campbell-O’Connor is running for a Regional School Unit 2 board of directors seat, which is currently held by Dawn Gallagher.

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