South Portland city councilors voted last week to lay the groundwork for a new Cash Corner Fire Station, in preparation for a $7 million bond referendum on June 11 to finance the project.

Councilors voted unanimously last Tuesday to give preliminary approval to zoning changes needed for the project. The Planning Board voted 4-0 to recommend the changes on May 8.

Officials say the fire station, built in the 1970s at 360 Main St., has mold problems, inadequate ventilation and is approaching the end of its life cycle.

“The mold is a serious problem we’ve been aware of for a while, and we need to do something about it,” Fire Chief James Wilson said. “We’re working through it and hopeful we get support of the citizens because it’s a much needed station and its location is strategically important to us.”

According to Assistant City Manager Joshua Reny, the engineering team for the project indicated the parcel spans two zones, with the front half in a Limited Business District, and the rear half in a Residential A District.

“We’re essentially getting our ducks in a row, so if the people demonstrate concern for the fire station and vote in favor of the bond referendum, we’ll have everything done ahead of time,” Reny said. “The project would move quickly thereafter, and that’s important because there are significant safety concerns and we don’t want to delay.”

The existing station is 7,400 square feet. Its replacement will be more than twice that, totaling 17,000 square feet, which will require discontinuing a portion of Rumery Street.

It would provide space for an additional rescue unit and allow the call station on Union Street in Thornton Heights to be shifted to Cash Corner.

If approved, the new building will have a traditional fire station look, with masonry brick on the outside, and the possibility of solar energy panels on the roof.

The decision to demolish the existing station rather than renovate the building stems from the results of a 2017 Indoor Environmental Quality assessment that concluded “significant remediation and renovations would be needed to address the extensive mold accumulations in wall cavities, ceilings, insulation, and other surfaces.”

The City Council voted 7-0 to send the bond question to voters. Of the $7 million bond, $6 million would be used to replace the current fire station with the new one and would be repaid over 20 years. The remaining $1 million, to be paid over 10 years, would be allocated for work at the Central and West End stations, as well as the police station on Anthoine Street.

According to city Finance Director Greg L’Heureux, the bond debt service will add at least 15 cents to the property tax rate, or $30 a year for the owner of a home valued at $200,000.

Resident Albert DiMillo Jr., a frequent critic of city spending who has posted signs throughout the city opposing the bond, said the decision to borrow $7 million doesn’t make sense. He says there is a reservoir of $63 million in cash available to pay for fire station renovations.

But Capt. Robb Couture, the Fire Department public information officer, said the borrowing is necessary because the reserve funds are not eligible for this project.

Final council action on the zoning changes is expected on June 4.

If voters approve the bond referendum, the city would have to file an application with the Planning Department for project review. If the process goes smoothly, construction could begin between October 2019 and December 2020, and the new station could be ready for occupancy in 2021.

Krysteana Scribner can be reached at 780-9094 or at:

[email protected]

 Twitter: @krysteana2016.


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