March 16, 2011

Town to raze old station

Union Leader Correspondent
LONDONDERRY -- Following a brief debate Tuesday night, the former North Fire Station has officially sounded its final call.
Built by local volunteers in the early 1950s, the abandoned fire station on Old
 Mammoth Road, will soon be leveled to make way for muchneeded parking spaces for the adjacent Londonderry Senior Center. 

During a public hearing on the building’s fate held at Town Hall, approximately 30 residents sat in the audience. Roughly two-thirds of them were members of the Londonderry Senior Center. 
After a half-hour discussion, where several residents voiced their opinions for or against the demolition, the committee voted, 3-1, in favor of leveling the old fire station. The meeting concluded in roughly 45 minutes. 
Kathy Wagner, chairwoman of the town’s demolition delay committee, said the committee is tasked with reviewing any demolition in town when it applies to any structure that’s 50 years old or older. 
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 members work to find a better solution. 
“Depending on the historic significance, a hearing is necessary,” Wagner said Tuesday night. “When this came forward, we were debating whether or not we should just let it go.” 
After several citizens noted the old fire station has certain sentimental value, considering volunteers had built it, this week’s public hearing was scheduled. 
But for some, demolition of the structure couldn’t come soon enough. 
“Is the 30-day stay automatic, or can we even eliminate that?” Patterson asked. “It’s of no functional value whatsoever and there’s absolutely no reason, logically, to keep the darn thing standing.” 
Rep. Al Baldasaro, R-Londonderry, who lives down the street from the old fire station and serves on the town’s elder affairs committee, also spoke in favor of the station’s demolition. “For years we’ve been hearing how unsafe this building is, with the mold there and all the safety issues,” he said. “The best interest of the town would probably be to take that building down and make it into a parking lot. It would be a win-win for the community in that area.” 
Senior Affairs Director Sara Landry spoke of the senior center’s current plight, referring to several photographs taken during the center’s busiest times. 
Landry said the center has around 445 members and has significantly grown since she began her position nine years ago. 
“We could never accommodate all of them at once,” she said, noting that on most days, around 50 local seniors visit the center. 
When the center is hosting a special event, such as the annual Thanksgiving dinner held each November, parking can get pretty precarious. 
“During that time our parking is absolutely stretched: people have to park on side streets, on Mammoth Road. It’s dangerous: sometimes you can’t even exit your vehicle,” Landry said. “It gets really unsafe for seniors.” 
By Landry’s estimations, the space where the fire station stands could be made into about 30 additional parking spaces. Right now, the center has 27 parking spaces, including five spaces along Old Mammoth Road and two handicapped spaces. 
Two of the center’s spaces, one handicapped and one regular, currently cannot be used on Fridays due to trash pick-up. 
“What I’m asking you to do is think about what else can be considered history: There’s living history in our seniors,” Landry continued. “Our seniors are really important, and I think their needs right now outweigh the needs to keep a building that’s really in disrepair.” 
When North Fire Station was vacated last month and the Londonderry Fire Department moved its operations to a new facility at 20 Grenier Field Road, Town Manager David Caron asked Senior Building Inspector Richard Canuel to conduct an analysis of the aging structure, which predates the town’s current building codes. 
“We haven’t estimated repairs because the costs would be astronomical,” Caron said. Canuel agreed. 
“I’ve got to say, that building is terribly unsafe. It was unsafe when firefighters were there,” he said, listing faulty wiring, open electrical connections, penetrated firewalls and openings in the ceiling of its apparatus bay that’s been allowing combustion to seep into the former living spaces among major concerns. 
“I don’t want to fault anyone who volunteered at the time, but it’s certainly obvious volunteers built it,” Canuel added. “I could not, in good conscience, issue a CO for that building, not in the condition it’s in.” 
Resident Remi Fortin, one of the volunteers who helped build the station many years ago, was one of the few to speak in favor of keeping the structure standing. 
“It meant something to me; it does have significance to the people I worked with,” Fortin said. “This is a good building, a sound building.” 
Resident Curtis Penning, a local construction worker, said he’d initially considered restoring the building on a volunteer basis in hopes of using it as a tool shop, but after hearing Canuel’s assessment of the structure, changed his tune. 
“Seeing this priority (for senior center parking), I’m going to withdraw,” he said. 

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