March 15, 2011

Old station or town treasure?

Union Leader Correspondent
LONDONDERRY -- A meeting held at Town Hall this evening will determine the fate of the former North Fire Station.
Last month, members of the Londonderry Fire Department moved operations from the aging Old Mammoth Road fire station to a new facility at 20 Grenier Field Road.
Constructed in the 1950s, an era when the
 town maintained a volunteer department, the former North Fire Station was designed to house much smaller fire equipment and typically only one firefighter was housed there at a time. Town officials said it simply outlived its usefulness, needs significant repair and fails to meet various current building codes. 

In fall 2008, the facility tested positive for mold, a problem that stemmed from a ceiling leak several years earlier in the upstairs day room and kitchen area, that had moistened the building’s insulation. 
At that time, fire personnel staffing the building said the old station was rife with structural issues, including a cracked foundation, peeling paint and no ventilation in its living areas. 
In the final years of the building’s use, railroad tie rods were used to hold up the roof in the garage where an engine and a forestry truck were once housed, and windows throughout the building are single-paned and not very heat-efficient. 
Still, few can deny the building’s rich history. According to Kathy Wagner, who serves as chairman of the town’s demolition delay committee, the former fire station was built by volunteers and is believed to house many artifacts — and lost tales — within its walls. 
“This building does have a lot of sentimental value for many people in the community,” Wagner said yesterday. 
Meanwhile, members of the local senior community are likewise keeping a close eye on the site, though for a different reason. 
Senior Center Director Sara Landry said the space where the now-empty fire station stands could be put to good use as some much-needed additional parking for the center. 
“We’re hoping the town can demolish the building to make room for more parking,” Landry said last weekend. 
Parking at the senior center, which shares a small parking lot with the former fire station, is limited, especially when the center is hosting a large event. This past Sunday, when the center hosted 80 senior guests for its annual St. Patrick’s Day dinner, the lot was filled to capacity, with additional cars parked along Old Mammoth Road and on the adjacent side streets. 
The demolition delay committee was set up by the town some time ago to look into ways of possibly saving antique buildings threatened by development or other factors. The committee reviews the pending demolition of any structure older than 50 years, and in many instances, a public hearing is necessary. 
“We all agreed that we should hear both sides of the issue,” Wagner said, noting that several residents have suggested maintaining the building as a town storage facility, instead of leveling it. 
Though the committee doesn’t have the power to stop a demolition, members can advise the town to place a 30-day hold on any pending demolition, as they work to find a better solution. 
Several antique barns in town have been saved in this fashion, and even in cases when the committee hasn’t been able to prevent a building from coming down, history can still be preserved for future generations to appreciate. 
In 2007, Ravenna Investment Associates tore down an 1800s barn on Buttrick Road during the construction of the Elliot Medical Center. The barn would have been a total loss were it not for the efforts of the town’s demolition delay committee. 
The barn’s beams were later integrated into a new building. Today that barn-like structure houses Hampshire First Bank on Route 102. 
The demolition delay committee meets tonight at 7 p.m. in the Moose Hill Conference Room at Londonderry Town Hall. 

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