PORTLAND — The city’s fireboat crew may get new waterfront living space after all.

City officials are looking for a contractor to renovate the three-person crew’s existing quarters at the Casco Bay Lines parking garage.

The renovation of the 1,600-square-foot space would cost less than $300,000, a fraction of the $1.8 million proposed for new living quarters in 2009 before a public outcry prompted the fire chief to scrap the plan.

Fred LaMontagne, who has since retired as chief, said it was important to have the quarters next to the fireboat at the Maine State Pier to ensure quick responses to Portland Harbor and the Casco Bay islands.

In 2010, however, more than two-thirds of the trips by Portland’s marine unit boats were non-emergency trips, including a few that were considered “harbor cruises,” the Portland Press Herald found.

Funding for the renovation plan has already been approved by the City Council, said city spokeswoman Nicole Clegg.

The project calls for a living space with three bedrooms, a living room with a TV, a kitchen, a bathroom, showers, a work space and a laundry room. Work is scheduled to begin by the end of this year.

“It seems to me at this point the work that’s being done is warranted and there are funds to cover the work,” Mayor Michael Brennan said Wednesday.

Fire officials say the current quarters on the ground floor of the garage have poor ventilation, lack windows and flood during heavy rains.

The space is broken into small rooms and hallways. The lone bed is in the corner of a small office, which also has a desk, a small computer, a tattered leather office chair and a flat-screen TV. The suspended ceiling is old and cracking.

One crew member can nap at a time, with another one sleeping on the fireboat. A third firefighter usually stays on Peaks Island, where the city recently spent $50,000 to develop permanent housing at the fire station.

Crews used to stay on the City of Portland III, the fireboat that was replaced in 2009. On the new, $3.2 million fireboat, the City of Portland IV, the galley and crew quarters are too small for the three-person crew.

Before the $1.8 million plan was dropped, LaMontagne said it was the most cost-effective option for housing firefighters on the waterfront.

The plan was so expensive because it called for a free-standing building between Casco Bay Lines’ terminal and parking garage, and the building had to be built to withstand natural disasters.

City Councilor John Anton, who was critical of that project’s cost, could not be reached for comment Wednesday on the new proposal.

The use of the fireboat has caused problems for the city. The boat was grounded twice, shortly after it was purchased in 2009 and again in 2011, sustaining nearly $130,000 worth of damage.

The city had to update its policy governing the use of the boat after learning that firefighters’ friends and family members were taking rides on it. The policy now prohibits friends and family members from riding on the boat and requires the city manager’s approval for all non-emergency use.

The renovation of the crew’s quarters — scheduled to begin in December — is timed largely to coincide with the Casco Bay Lines’ $3 million upgrade of the terminal and pier.

The city released a request for proposals Sunday and will have a mandatory meeting with prospective contractors on Nov. 13. Final proposals are due Nov. 27.

 

Staff Writer Randy Billings can be contacted at 791-6346 or at:

rbillings@mainetoday.com

Twitter: @randybillings