PHILLIPS – A public informational hearing will be held Tuesday, January 24, to discuss the building at 15 Russell Street. The building was formerly the town office, and prior to that, the elementary school. The meeting will be held at the Phillips Area Community Center, from 5 to 6 p.m.
Options include converting the building to a new fire station, selling the building, or retaining the building to determine other future uses. The public informational hearing is in response to a directive voted upon at the June 16, 2022 Annual Town Meeting stating the Selectboard should hold a public information hearing to discuss the feasibility of using the building for a fire station or possibly as a back-up for the Elementary School should Phillips choose to withdraw from MSAD 58.
Other options include selling the building or putting any decision on hold in lieu of the current inflationary financial pressures being put on taxpayers.
The building currently houses the Phillips Food Pantry, open on Thursdays. The Food Pantry pays for heat and electricity and occupies one room of the building. Just about half of the building was renovated when the Town Office moved there in November 2009; however, the remainder of the building has never been renovated.
The fire department has made requests for a feasibility study to rehab the building at the Annual Town Meeting twice in the past 3 years. The request was turned down each time, and last year, townspeople voted in favor of holding off on selling the building for another year and hold a public information hearing to discuss what is best for the town.
At the June 17, 2021 Town Meeting, then MSAD 58 school board member Nicole Norton asked the town to appropriate $5000 to hire a consultant to do a preliminary study pertaining to the costs of withdrawing from MSAD 58. If that happened, the town would go into negotiations of ownership of school buses, property, staffing issues. If the town were to withdraw from MSAD, there might be a possibility the town could retain the current Phillips Elementary School building to be utilized as part of a town school district. The town retained the services of a Portland Firm in 2021, but to date has not received any written report, though several inquiries have been to secure one. No funds have been paid for that service.
The fire station is currently housed on Park Street in the same headquarters as the Town Garage. Fire Chief James Gould maintains the salt from the sand pile adversely affects the fire trucks, which have very sensitive electronic equipment.
The Town Garage also hosts NorthStar Ambulance, who has not voiced any adverse effect from housing the ambulance service there. NorthStar Ambulance Bay operates an ambulance out of the Town Garage, located at the right side of the building facing the sand pile.
The fire department has maintained should the town vote in favor of rehabbing and making additions to the building for a fire station, the food pantry could stay there. As the fire department is a department of the town, it is not up to the fire department to decide whether the fire station should be moved, or the food pantry should remain there.
Some speculation has the construction of a fire station rehab of 15 Russell Street to be over a million dollars. Gould has maintained the cost would not be that high and has presented an estimate to the Selectboard to be reviewed at the hearing.
Some of the questions to be aired during the public hearing would include:
– Does the town need a new fire station?
– What would be the cost of a new fire station? As it would be a town owned facility, it would have to go through the bidding process for labor and materials. It would have to be constructed up to code to meet municipals insurance standards.
– How would the town dispose of any materials from the site?
– Is Russell Street adequate to handle the traffic from the fire trucks which are frequently called out to traffic accidents? The street is a narrow, secondary road compared to the current location on Park Street, which is a wider road which can more easily accommodate the weight of fire trucks and increased traffic generated from fire department related calls.
– Why is the fire department having issues with equipment and the ambulance service is not?
– Is the site large enough to handle the fire departments’ four trucks?
– Could there be structural improvements to the highway department (possibly even the potential of hiring a fire department maintenance
person to wash the trucks) that would be less costly?
– Can the town and taxpayers afford the increased expenses of renovating the structure, with the uncertainty of the school budget and other increased town expenses due to rising costs?
– With inflation running at over 8 percent a month (heating costs, food), can the taxpayers afford to be saddled with the long-term debt of a new fire station?
– How much would it cost to ground and pave Russell Street?
– As additional plowing would be required, what would those costs be?
– What would the potential noise issues be that could arise by the station being in the middle of town, requiring fire trucks to either go onto Main Street or Dodge Road every time they are called out?
– Is there another site that might be more suitable for a fire station with new construction, not renovation?
– What are the state requirements that must be met for a municipal fire station?
– If the building were to be retained with the potential to resurrect it as a school building, would the Maine Department of Education accept it as a school, and if so, what would be the renovations required to bring it up to current standards?
And any other concerns that might be raised by abutters and townspeople.
Written by BJ Bangs.
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