PHILLIPS – A public informational meeting was held on Tuesday, January 24, to discuss the future of the town-owned property at 15 Russell Street. The meeting was held at the Phillips Area Community Center with town officials and approximately 40 attendees, including three Avon residents.
The Russell Street building was originally a school, then it was repurposed as the town office. Approximately half of the building was renovated for the town office, with the other half untouched.
For three years the Phillips Fire Department has been requesting the property be used for a new fire station. The department has been looking for a new location, citing a number of factors that make the current space unsuitable for their needs. The department has looked into the Russell Street location as a potential site as the town already owns the property and it is in a central location.
Fire Chief James Gould presented a proposal and a cost estimate for the project, based on ‘worst case scenario’ quotes from contractors.
The department’s proposal would be to add a 50-foot by 70-foot wood frame construction to the renovated end of the Russell Street building. This addition would have four station bays. The existing structure would be used for training rooms and the chief’s office. One of the few interior renovations for the department’s purposes would be to add a bathroom with a shower for decontamination.
The estimated cost for the proposal, from the ground up, was $349,999.
The department has stated that the current station is too small, with only two bays for four pieces of apparatus. In addition, the location at Park Street results in constant exposure to salt, which damages the fire trucks and the electrical systems. Gould said he believes that Phillips has to replace trucks more frequently than any other department in the county. In October 2022, Gould spoke in detail about the reasons behind the proposed change.
One concern Gould has heard repeatedly is noise pollution. He said that the department has a policy to limit use of sirens and horns in residential areas unless necessary for safety. A resident who lives next to the current station on Park Street said that the department does not create much noise, much to the disappointment of her three-year-old who would like to hear more sirens.
Other concerns were about the ‘hidden costs’ that may be associated with the project. Town Manager Maureen Haley said that if the town decided to move forward with the proposal, they would need to take out a bond with the Maine Municipal Bond Bank, requiring an attorney for consultation; the fees could run between $3,000 and $10,000. In addition there would be costs for putting the different components of the project out to bid. Haley also stated that the unchanged portion of the building would need to be renovated or developed, and could not be left to sit as-is.
Residents discussed the proposal and suggested other potential uses for the building.
Potential uses included a health center, elderly housing, a childcare center, or a school if in the future the town decided to withdraw from the school district. It was noted that if the town did decide to withdraw, there would presumably be the elementary school building on Route 4 that could be used for a school building, still leaving the Russell Street building available. Haley said she was unsure if the Russell Street building would be suitable for a school at this point.
One idea was to build a four-bay garage for the fire apparatus at the ball field and maintain the current office space and training area for the department. Gould said that there would be increased cost and work to maintain two buildings, and that the suggested location would still have the trucks driving through salt and sand in the Public Works yard.
A suggestion was made to house the fire department at Russell Street and renovate the untouched half of the building into office spaces that could be rented out, providing some revenue to the town.
The discussion lasted for an hour before select board chair Ray Gaudette called for an informal poll by show of hands on the different options available. This poll was to offer guidance for the direction the town government should take with regards to the building. No formal action was taken as the meeting was for informational purposes.
The option to turn the Russell Street building into a fire station was the popular choice by a strong majority of attendees.
The options to sell the building or to hold for future use each received one or two votes in the poll. The final option, to put all proposals on hold for the time being, received seven or eight votes.
Haley noted that the town could put all four options out for a formal vote at the annual town meeting.