GARDINER — A week after fire damaged his multi-story Water Street building, Fernando Stelser got some welcome news.

“The structural engineer didn’t say tear it down and start from scratch,” Stelser said. “In my mind, that would be devastating even more.”

That means when the insurance claim is settled, 192 Water St. can be rebuilt.

“We have to gut the whole place, downstairs because of the water and upstairs because of the fire,” he said while taking a short break Friday afternoon.

In the early hours of Dec. 28, fire broke out between the second-floor ceiling and the roof of the former Maine Trust & Banking building at the corner of Water and Church streets.

For the next 13 hours, firefighters from Gardiner and surrounding communities as far away as Topsham poured water, sometimes at a rate of 1,000 gallons per minute, on the stubborn fire that had taken hold in a void between the ceiling and the roof.

“Had the fire been going in a space we had access to, it would have been out in no time,” said Gardiner Fire Chief Al Nelson.

Now Stelser, who with his wife, Haldria Vale Jantorno, owns Domino’s franchises throughout central Maine, will work to bring the building back.

For now, the engineer is working on some plans to replace the roof. Once the building is water-tight, work can start on the restaurant. After that’s done, work can begin on the offices in the building.

In the meantime, plenty of work remains.

Stelser said his Gardiner employees have been moved to the couple’s Augusta Domino’s for the time being, and they can work available hours at other stores. Stelser and Jantorno also have Domino’s franchises in Bath, Auburn, Brunswick, Freeport and Lisbon, and they are working on opening an eighth location.

The Gardiner building’s tenants are trying to figure out what’s next. Among them are attorneys Kevin Sullivan and C.H. Skip Spurling, who had leased space at 2 Church St. and who have spent the week looking for alternate office space.

“It’s ugly,” Spurling said of the space he’s occupied since 1997. “You can look up and see the sky.”

Exactly a year before the fire, Sullivan had moved into the office. Each attorney has his own practice in the shared space.

By the end of this week, they said, they will decide whether they can stay in Gardiner.

Patricia Hart leased space on the building’s second floor for Hart Consulting. Hart, an economist, once had an office several buildings away from buildings that burned on Water Street in July 2015.

Hart, who is Gardiner’s mayor-elect and is scheduled to be sworn in Monday, said, “So many people have asked how they can help. I’m fine. There are definitely things I have to take care of, but so many have lost so much in the various fires we have seen in the city.”

Stelser said he’s grateful for the support and outreach from the community and from Gardiner Main Street and city officials.

“Just like they support us, we want to support them,” he said.

Jessica Lowell can be contacted at 621-5632 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: JLowellKJ

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