A Yarmouth group is moving ahead with plans to open a community arts center in a former firehouse and begin offering programs as early as April, a spokeswoman said Wednesday.

Leaders of the nonprofit group, Firehouse Arts at Winslow Station, hope to complete renovations needed to get fire-safety and occupancy permits as soon as possible, said spokeswoman Janice Cooper.

Renovations planned for the building at 20 Central St. include the installation of a handicapped-accessible bathroom, a utility sink and better lighting, all on the first floor, Cooper said. Improvements to the second floor will come later.

“It’s all in pretty good shape,” Cooper said. “We’re doing what we can to get the doors open and then we’ll do what we can when we can afford it.”

The Yarmouth Town Council gave final approval last week for a five-year lease to be signed when the group gets its permits, said Town Manager Nat Tupper.

The group plans to pay for the first phase of renovations with a $5,000 grant from Yarmouth Arts and $3,000 from an anonymous donor, Cooper said. Future renovations, including a new stairway that meets modern building codes, would be covered by program fees and additional fundraising.

Town records are unclear about when the fire station was built, but town leaders say it’s about 100 years old.

“We’re going to be very careful to preserve its appearance as a firehouse,” Cooper said.

The wood-frame, clapboard building originally stood across Center Street, then it was moved to its present address, Cooper said. It initially stood closer to the street, but was moved back so fire trucks could be parked and washed in the front yard, she said.

The station was named after Town Councilor Carl Winslow, a former fire chief, upon his retirement in 1996. His father, Ernest, served as fire chief before him. The station was closed in 2005.

After several months of haggling, the council voted 5-2 last week to lease the station to the arts group, with Winslow and Erv Bickford opposed. Winslow said he was concerned about the town giving up control of the building and losing future revenue it may generate.

Tupper said the town spends about $5,000 each year on the building’s utilities and maintenance.

Under the lease agreement, the arts group would pay annual rent of $1 for the first two years and $5,000 for the final three years. The group would have an option to buy the property after three years. The arts center would offer lessons, taught by local artists, in everything from painting to pottery and woodworking to digital graphics, Cooper said.

Arts group members hope it will draw people of all ages from Portland to Brunswick. They also hope to coordinate activities with the community music center that recently opened at 317 Main St.

“The possibilities are limitless,” Cooper said.

Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:

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