Study sees need for Central Fire Station expansion

By Wayne E. Rivet

Staff Writer

When Steve Fay was hired as Bridgton’s new fire chief, he took a close look at how the department was operated and evaluated what its short- and long-terms needs were.

A big piece of the puzzle is an aging Central Station on Gibbs Avenue, which fails to meet both safety and organizational standards.

SMRT Architects and Engineers of Portland presented findings of a feasibility study to selectmen Tuesday night.

David Mains, principal at SMRT, said Central Station “has exceeded its service life.”

Peter Anderson, who was the primary author of the feasibility study, said the town could entertain two options — 1. Renovate the current structure and expand, which would cost about $1.4 million; or 2. Build a new station at a different location, at an estimated cost of $2.4 million.

Anderson pointed out that staying at the current location on Gibbs Avenue creates several space issues, as well as an inability to add more height.

Selectman Bob Murphy noted that since Bridgton still uses a volunteer, call-in response approach, parking is a necessity. However, if significant parking is needed, then the amount of new facility square footage would be reduced. Based on needs, the station should double in size from 5 to 10,000 square feet.

Anderson noted that the ladder truck barely squeezes into the current station. He added that under the renovation scenario, a good portion of the existing structure would likely be replaced to meet new guidelines and needs, such as an area for decontamination, exhaust system (a hose which hooks onto the tailpipe of fire trucks as the vehicles are started, pushing fumes out of the facility), office spaces (Chief Fay’s office is currently at the municipal complex) and possible live-in quarters — for both current fire department personnel, as well as fire science students from Southern Maine Community College.

There is also repair work to be done to the existing structure, such as cracks in the station floor, replacement of an inefficient boiler and addressing minor electrical problems.

A barrier would be that while construction is underway, the station would remain in service. Anderson said the project would likely be “phased,” building the new addition and then moving over to address the older structure.

One advantage of seeking a new location would certainly be improving overall safety.

While the project will sit on the back burner for the time being as the town tackles other infrastructure improvements — new wastewater system and streetscape work — Town Manager Bob Peabody said Central Station certainly will be included in future planning discussions.

“We are at a point where the community has things that need to be updated. As municipal employees, our job is to keep the selectmen apprised to what needs to be done so they can look into the crystal ball and start planning for the future,” Peabody said.

Fire Chief Fay agreed. “Wastewater and other improvements have to come first, but the thought is we now have a study and options to consider and we’ll put them in that planning pipeline.”

The feasibility study cost $15,000, and the bid was awarded to SMRT Architects and Engineers.

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