SOUTH PORTLAND — Bonding to replace the Cash Corner fire station is a step away from the June 11 ballot.

City councilors on Tuesday unanimously approved moving the $7 million borrowing proposal forward on its first reading. A second reading and vote will follow a public hearing at the Tuesday, April 9, City Council meeting at City Hall.

The borrowing would appropriate $6 million to replace the 7,400-square-foot fire station at Main and Rumery streets with a 17,000-square-foot station Fire Chief James Wilson said he hopes will be in use by January 2021.

The remaining $1 million would be allocated for work at the Central and West End stations, as well as police headquarters on Anthoine Avenue.

“(It is) a bare-bones station that will meet the needs today and 50 years from now,” Wilson said Tuesday of the new Cash Corner plans.

The existing fire station, built in the 1970s, has mold problems, inadequate ventilation and is approaching the end of its life cycle.

One bedroom was closed because of surface mold, and a 2017 evaluation by consultant Sebago Technics reached a grim conclusion. 

“It is apparent the extent of the mold will require a complete demolition and reconstruction of the living quarters,” the report said.

The $6 million allocation will be repaid over 20 years, and the remainder will be paid over 10 years, City Manager Scott Morelli said in a position paper. Debt service on both is estimated at $2.38 million.

The present estimate to rebuild the Cash Corner fire station is $7.5 million; the city has already set aside $1.5 million for the work.

At its peak in fiscal year 2021, the bond debt service is expected to add at least 15 cents to the property tax rate. Morelli said it would be 19 cents in his position paper, but city Finance Director Greg L’Heureux estimated the lower amount Tuesday.

While councilors were unanimous in their support and upset that firefighters endured such working and living conditions for so long, Councilor Kate Lewis asked what would happen if voters reject the bond.

“We’d come back before the council pretty quickly in June to talk about Plan B,” Morelli said.

Replacing the station is seen by Morelli and Wilson as the better investment, despite an upfront cost that is twice as much as the estimated $3.4 million cost of renovations.

Fire stations are expected to have a 50-year lifespan, based in part on changes in firefighting, including larger apparatus. The current station also has only one bathroom and shower area, and a new decontamination area would allow firefighters to clean up better after each call.

The plans call for building the new station over its present pilings. Owens McCullough Sebago Technics senior vice president, said the new building would be designed to block vapors that rise from the boggy ground underneath.

The site is still seen as the best for a fire station, in part because of a lack of city-owned or otherwise available parcels in the area, Wilson said in a March 25 memo.

He said a new, larger station would also create space for an additional rescue unit and allow the call station on Union Street in Thornton Heights to be shifted to Cash Corner.

A new station would likely require a zoning change, as well as incorporate part of Rumery Street, according to a memo from city Planning Director Tex Haeuser.

David Harry can be reached at 780-9092 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

South Portland city councilors are expected to decide April 9 on whether to seek $7 million in bonds to replace the Cash Corner fire station.

An overhead rendering of a proposed new Cash Corner fire station in South Portland shows how it would fit on the site of the present fire station and require some space on Rumery Street.

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