It’s clear from the actions, and inaction, of the Saco City Council that the decision on the future of the old Saco fire station is going to come down to money.

The council has been sitting on the property since before it was vacated by the fire department in April 2011, but has taken no definitive action. On Monday, the council once again put off a decision on the building’s future by tabling a motion to demolish it and rejecting an offer to purchase it.

After several public meetings concerning the fire station during the past year, many Saco residents have made it clear that they want to save the 1938 station, but the council is leaving everyone in suspense by continually putting off a vote on whether or not to demolish the building.

The fire station has been sitting vacant for well over a year, so it’s time to make a move. And regardless of the specifics of any proposal, there are really only two options.

Estimates show that the city would pay at least $100,000 to tear down the old building, which would leave the abutting administration building on the site and create space for parking. Once the site is cleared, a buyer could be sought for the administration building, which could garner fair market value because, unlike the fire station, it is newer and not in need of extensive repairs.

The other option is to retain the fire station building, and most proposals suggest eliminating the administration building to make room for parking. The proposal the council rejected Monday, from developer Cynthia Taylor, would renovate the fire station for reuse as a mixed commercial/residential space, put it on the National Register of Historic Places, and create parking onsite by removing the administration building.

The sticking point: She’s only offering $50,000.

That’s far, far less than the city’s asking price for the property of $474,000. The reason is that renovation of the fire station is estimated to cost between $338,000 and $563,000.

Let’s remember why the fire department wanted to move out in the first place. It wasn’t just because the bays were too narrow for modern fire engines. Alden Murphy, fire chief in 2009, said the building had plumbing, wiring, heating and asbestos issues as well as deteriorating brick.

It’s simply not in good shape.

And it’s hard to justify demolishing a perfectly good building for parking and then spending nearly half a million to renovate the other one just because it was built in the 1930s.

There is, of course, some debate on how much this property is actually worth. Mayor Mark Johnston and others seem to believe that with the fire station building on the land, it is worth significantly less than $474,000 due to the needed repairs. But even if the city’s asking price for the property may be unrealistic for today’s real estate climate, $50,000 is clearly too low for this nearly half-acre downtown lot.

With all the investment that will be necessary in order for anyone to reuse the fire station, the city is simply not going to get a much better offer from someone who doesn’t plan to tear it down. The city leaders need to come to the realization that if they want to see this old building preserved, they’ll essentially be paying for it, albeit indirectly.

It’s time for Saco to decide what its priorities are for this site: Historical significance or getting the most for what the land is worth. Simply leaving the old fire station standing and vacant for the foreseeable future is not a viable option.

Today’s editorial was written by Managing Editor Kristen Schulze Muszynski, representing the majority opinion of the Journal Tribune Editorial Board. Questions? Comments? Contact Kristen by calling 282-1535, Ext. 322, or via email at [email protected].