Greater Portland Landmarks has put fire stations in greater Portland on its 2019 Places in Peril list and encouraged departments, such as the Portland Fire Department, to think about alternatives to demolishing fire stations when they need to be replaced or updated. Michael Kelley / The Forecaster

PORTLAND — Firehouses, two buildings on University of Southern Maine campuses and historic structures in coastal communities are on Greater Portland Landmarks’ new list of  places that are in danger of being lost due to development or climate change.

“Designed to shine a spotlight on threatened historic sites in Greater Portland, this list creates and rallies resources necessary to save irreplaceable treasures that define our community,” Greater Portland Landmarks Executive Director Sarah Hansen said in a Sept. 26 announcement of the 2019 Places in Peril list.

Representatives of the sites listed, however, disagree with GPL’s assessment. City Communications Director Jessica Grondin said the Portland fire stations cited are not imperiled.

The Deering Farmhouse, built in 1807, is on Greater Portland Landmarks 2019 Places in Peril list. The University of Southern Maine is eyeing the farmhouse property as the site for a new graduate school. Michael Kelley / The Forecaster

Hansen said consolidation, changes in firefighting technology and the need to accommodate additional staff and equipment are causing fire departments to examine stations’ efficiency and think about closing stations and building bigger facilities elsewhere.

In South Portland, voters in June approved a plan to demolish the Cash Corner Fire Station at 360 Main St. to make way for a larger 17,000-square-foot building that 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.

Hansen said Greater Portland Landmarks hopes this does not happen to fire stations in Portland. An October 2017 study, she noted, recommended replacing stations in East Deering, North Deering, Riverton, and Rosemont, as well as major renovations at Bramhall and major renovations or replacement of the Central Fire Station on Congress Street.

“As Portland Fire Department approaches its 240th year of service, we encourage the department and surrounding communities to look closely at the legacy reflected in our community station. Already several fire stations have been sold and re-purposed into functional community spaces,” Hansen said.

Grondin said none of the fire stations are in danger of closing.

“The North Deering station was recently renovated, and consideration is being given to interior renovations to several of the other stations on the list. This and other studies have revealed that our station locations are well suited for serving the needs of the city, and our plan is to make renovations and improvements needed to keep them functioning where they are,” Grondin said.

Gorham Academy is used by the University of Southern Maine’s art department, but Greater Portland Landmarks is worried that a master plan at the college may impact the 213-year-old building. Courtesy / Greater Portland Landmarks

Two buildings on this year’s list are located on the University of Southern Maine campuses: the old Gorham Academy building on School Street in Gorham and the Deering farmhouse on Brighton Avenue in Portland.

Nancy Griffin, chief operating officer at the University of Southern Maine, takes exception with the properties being on the list.

“Those buildings are not in peril and it is not appropriate to have them on the list,” Griffin said. “We have active plans for both those buildings.”

Gorham Academy, now used by USM for art studios, was built in 1806 as one of the original six academies set up when Maine was part of Massachusetts. Hansen said many of the defining characteristics of the building – its detailed portico and pediment and four Doric columns supporting a second-floor balcony – are intact and Greater Portland Landmarks would like to see those items maintained.

Griffin said the university is in the process of hiring a historic preservation architect and will consult with the Gorham Historical Society “to make sure our plans and repairs to the building are historically accurate.”

Greater Portland Landmarks argues the university’s long-range master plan puts the Deering Farmhouse in jeopardy. The building, built in 1807, is the last remaining structure of the 200-acre estate of James Deering and is the last Federal-style farmhouse in the city. Hansen said the farmhouse is in good condition but it’s vacant. USM’s plan is to use the property as the site of a new graduate school, which would require relocation or demolition of the building.

“The building was determined eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, but has no current local protection from demolition or alterations,” Hansen said.

Griffin said university officials are “looking to work with folks in Portland and across the state to find another location for the farmhouse. Our master plan calls for us to use that site for a larger building, but that is years away.”

Areas in greater Portland, including downtown, that are susceptible to rising sea levels have been included in Greater Portland Landmarks list of places in peril. Courtesy / Corey Templeton

Greater Portland Landmarks has also placed the historic coastal communities of greater Portland on its 2019 Places in Peril list. Hansen said many of Maine’s historic sites and residential neighborhoods, such as Bayside in Portland and Ferry Village in South Portland, are in danger of being impacted by climate change.

Greater Portland Landmarks reports that according to a 2006 climate study, 9 feet of sea-level rise is predicted by 2100, which would put 1,495 acres, or 11 percent of the land in Portland underwater.

Hansen said Landmark’s goal over the next year is to develop a climate change impact report and anaylsis.

“While climate change cannot be reversed, much can be done to protect our communities and we look forward to devising creative solutions to mitigate threats and protect endangered landmarks,” she said.

 

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