When Phil O’Connor bought the R.P. Bell Collision auto repair shop in Saco in 2007, he knew he wanted to consolidate the four buildings into one.

But delays in getting the city to abandon a paper street and just the press of everyday business caused him to put those plans on the back burner.

Until a fire last summer allowed him to move on the plans.

Bell said the blaze pretty much destroyed the shop’s paint department and also lit a fire under him to build a new center that will allow him to consolidate the buildings and lead to a more efficient shop.

He’s put in a replacement paint facility but decided “it didn’t make sense to build another paint shop (in the existing place) if I wanted it all under the same roof,” O’Connor said. “I want to build it and have it state of the art.”

O’Connor also owns Caron’s Body Shop in Lewiston and Coleman’s Collision in Auburn.


He said the fire started in the paint shop because of a crack in a heat exchanger and some leaked fumes. The heat caused the roof to collapse.

Workers were good about adapting and sending some of the paint jobs to his other facilities, O’Connor said, but the fire was a major disruption that caused him to look again at the delayed plans to consolidate his buildings in Saco.

“This kind of accelerated it,” he said. The new center is expected to open in late summer.

O’Connor said he took a clean-slate approach to his plans, inviting his workers to his house for beer and pizza and asking them how they would design a consolidated shop. Even though he already had some plans drawn up, O’Connor said he was able to incorporate many of their ideas and believes they will make for a more efficient work space.

The project will cost close to $1 million by time it’s done. O’Connor said he’s still working with the insurance company on how much it will cover of the cost, but thinks the settlement will be fair.

That process, he added, has put him in the position of many of his customers who bring their cars to him for repair after a collision.

“It’s really important for you to know your insurance policy and know it thoroughly,” he said.


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