By Mac Cerullo
---- — AMESBURY – Nearly three years after it was initially approved by the City Council, construction on the $2.4 million fire station renovation is finally set to begin.
Mayor Thatcher Kezer said yesterday that he has signed a contract with New England Builders and Contractors, Inc. of Methuen to conduct the renovations. Kezer said a specific construction schedule will be developed over the next couple of weeks, and residents can expect to see work begin within the next 30 days.
The winning bid came in at $1,630,000, with an additional price of $865,000 for a proposed expansion to the building. Since that figure would have put the city over its $2.4 million appropriation, Kezer said the city isn’t going to pursue the expansion, which he said isn’t needed given the extra space opened up by the recent renovation and reopening of the Elm Street Fire Station.
Despite the elimination of the fire station expansion, the city is still expected to tear down the adjacent Town Hall Annex building in the coming weeks. The Annex is the oldest municipally-owned building in Amesbury.
Kezer had originally intended to tear down the 176-year-old brick structure because the expansion would have come within three feet of the Annex. A consultant’s report on the expansion projected that the proximity of the two buildings would have increased the cost of the addition by hundreds of thousands of dollars in construction costs.
The Amesbury Historical Commission voted in March of 2011 to put a hold on demolishing the annex by deeming it “preferably preserved.” By issuing the preferably preserved status, the Historical Commission put an 18-month hold on the demolition to give the city a chance to sell the building so it could be moved to another location and preserved. Kezer said the city tried to do that, but nobody was interested.
Now that the 18-month hold is expired, the city has secured a demolition permit. Kezer said the building is in the way of the construction site, and he’d like to ultimately convert the area into additional parking.
He said if the building were to remain, the cost of maintaining it would become burdensome to the city. The city would also be required to update the building so it would be compliant with handicapped accessibility laws.
“If we attempted to do that, we’d have to put a lot more money into that building than it’s worth,” Kezer said. “And all we’d have is ADA compliant halls and bathrooms and no office space left.”
Steve Klomps, a member of the Historical Commission, said he was disappointed the Annex couldn’t be saved, but acknowledged that the city had at least attempted to sell the building.
“We would prefer that it stay, but there’s nothing we can do about it at this point,” Klomps said.
The fire station renovation project has been in the works since as far back as November of 2008, when the City Council approved $600,000 for improvements to the public safety building. The cost of the project greatly increased in 2010 when a roof leak caused a mold infestation, and the resulting repairs triggered requirements that the building be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
The ADA requires municipalities to become ADA compliant if they exceed expenditures of 30 percent of the building value in improvements to the property. Since the improvements made after the mold infestation surpassed that threshold, it became necessary to perform a complete renovation of the building to meet handicapped-access codes.
The city council authorized $2.4 million for the project in October of 2010, and since then Amesbury has spent $992,388 on the project, with some of the money going towards the Elm Street Fire Building renovation and several properties along School Street, according to invoice documents provided by the city.
“We are going to achieve all of the objectives that we stated at the beginning of the project, and based on the numbers we expect it to be under the appropriation,” Kezer said.