Committee pitching plan for new $762,000 north fire station
Searsport — Arthur Koch Sr. has served on the Searsport Fire Department, operating out of the town's north fire station on Mt. Ephraim Road, for 30 years.
He and his son, fellow Searsport firefighter A.J. Koch Jr., have many good memories of the aging building, as well as the people who have served alongside them over the years.
That said, the senior Koch admitted during the first of four scheduled public information meetings about replacing the old station Wednesday night, Feb. 6, that the time has come to construct a more modern facility that is up to industry standards and can better serve firefighters and residents.
"We are not all impressed with moving to a new site," said Arthur Koch Sr. "The old site has a lot of meaning to us... We'll be glad on one hand, but sad on the other."
His son echoed those sentiments.
"I grew up in this building we currently have," said A.J. Koch. "There comes a point in time when you just have to let go of some things."
A.J. Koch, who is co-chairman of the North Searsport Fire Station Committee, explained that the committee has worked for more than two years to come up with a design that will fit the department's needs for the next 50 years, while also being mindful of the project's impact on the taxpayers.
The old building has served the town well, said A.J. Koch, but the growing needs of the community, coupled with the increasing size of modern fire trucks and general public safety equipment, have rendered the building obsolete and quite cramped for space.
After working with local architect Bob Fenney, the committee pitched a new proposed fire station that would include four bays — three to house fire trucks and a fourth that could house an ambulance in the event the town decided to keep one in North Searsport at some time in the future. The new building would be located at 619 Mt. Ephraim Rd., a little more than a mile south of its current location at 753 Mt. Ephraim Rd. The total estimated cost of the project, said A.J. Koch, is $762,000; a figure he said could decrease because the project would go out for competitive bid if voters approve it at the annual town meeting next month.
Many hours of discussion among committee members and firefighters resulted in the design that was presented Wednesday night, A.J. Koch said, a configuration that will include an unfinished kitchen space that can be completed down the road, room to house equipment and department antiques, and a meeting space that can also be used as a training area and an emergency operations center if necessary.
"Some of our meetings were downright heated," said A.J. Koch of the process of arriving at a building design.
Emergency Management Director Bud Rivers spoke to the need for an alternative emergency operations center, in addition to the two the town has already designated — the Dan Rich Public Safety Building off Route 1 and Union Hall, which is next door to the public safety building.
The problem, said Rivers, would be if a disaster of some kind rendered the downtown area uninhabitable. In that case, the proposed new fire station could fill that need.
A.J. Koch said the proposed new station would be sited on a different lot from where the current station is located because the existing lot has a fair amount of wetlands behind it, and the ability to expand the building is limited because town ordinances require setbacks from neighboring properties.
After the Maine Department of Environmental Protection came to the current station and evaluated the lot, A. J. Koch said, the committee learned that the cost of trying to use the existing lot would be far more than the expense of obtaining a new parcel for the new station.
The design also calls for making the station more energy-efficient than the current building by using solar power and other ways of saving money on heat and electricity.
Committee member Ralph Jewell said he supported the new construction because the needs in North Searsport are growing along with the population.
"People are moving into North Searsport, people are building new structures out there," he said.
There were three additional public information meetings scheduled on the proposed fire station, but the meeting that was set for Friday, Feb. 8, was canceled because of the snowstorm.
The next two meetings will take place at the North Station Thursday, Feb. 14, and Friday Feb. 15, with both meetings scheduled to begin at 7 p.m.
"We encourage people who came down here tonight to come up there and see firsthand what we're dealing with," said A. J. Koch.