The original Morse High School on High Street in Bath could become the home of the city’s new fire station once its handed over to the city this spring, but the site can’t accommodate both Bath’s fire and police station. File

BATH — Bath’s fire and police stations are aging and about half the size they need to be, a study on the buildings found. But the former Morse High School could serve as a site for a new fire station.

The fire and police stations are in ideal locations, but unlike the police station, the fire station doesn’t have room to expand within the property lot, said Will Gatchell, a senior architect at Harriman, a New England-based architecture, planning and engineering firm that conducted the study.

“There’s no easy way to deal with this site,” Gatchell said of the fire station. “As the department has grown, they’ve really outgrown this location.”

Built in 1958, the fire station has five firefighters on duty at all times and only four bedrooms, but the station may need to add more personnel as the number of emergency calls they get increases. Deputy Chief Chris Cummings told The Times Record the annual number of emergency calls has increased by around 700 in the last 20 years.

Gatchell also noted the building has cracks in the masonry, water damage from the roof leaking and an aging heating system. The department’s ladder truck also had to be modified to fit into the small garage.

Gatchell recommended the city remove two more recent additions on the north side of the original Morse High School and build a new, larger fire station in its place. With the existing fire station just down the road, this plan would keep the fire station in the center of the city.

Morse alumna Tabatha Bishop, class of 2003, said she thinks building a new fire station at Morse High School is “the brightest idea anyone has come up with so far.”

“Of course, I would love to see the building stay as is, but I think that would be a good plan,” said Bishop. “From there, they’re able to access any part of town quickly. As long as it’s benefitting our community, I think it’s a good plan.”

Bishop said she’d like to see other portions of the school become some kind of housing. However, she hopes the city doesn’t open any part of the building for commercial use because she fears that would “take away from the restaurants and businesses who have been struggling through this pandemic.”

Alumna Susan Gallant, class of 1998, agreed that a new fire station on the property “makes sense” for the community, but she would also like to see the building used as low-income or transitional housing.

“I know so many people in Bath that are struggling and have nowhere else to go and the town of Bath needs more housing for people in that situation,” she said.

Gallant said the school’s vocation centers for culinary arts, nursing and early childhood education could serve as a soup kitchen, walk-in clinic or day care, all of which would serve the community.

Bath’s police station on Water Street, built in 1988, has some of the same issues as the fire station, Gatchell said, including cracks in the masonry and water damage. There are also elements of the building that don’t meet current standards, such as poor ventilation in the department’s evidence storage room.

Unlike the fire station, the police station has enough property to tear down and rebuild a new, larger police station within the same footprint, Gatchell said.

Based on the conceptual designs created by Gatchell, the fire and police stations would cost $14.1 million and $11.7 million, respectively.

“What became clear during the initial study is that we cannot put both facilities there … because there’s not enough space to accommodate both of them in that footprint,” Bath City Manager Peter Owen said.

Owen said the city is not considering undertaking these projects simultaneously, and the fire station will most likely be addressed first as the city moves forward with considering what to do with the original Morse High School.

“When looking at new facilities, first you have to evaluate what you have already, if it’s meeting your needs, and what condition it’s it,” said Marc Meyers, assistant city manager. “Certainly this study has found both of these facilities do not meet the needs of our departments.”

However, Meyers said neither building needs to be replaced immediately, but both should be addressed in the coming years.

The high school building at 286 High Street will be given to the city this spring once students move into the new high school on Wing Farm Parkway.

The original Morse High School was built in 1904 and named for businessman Charles Morse. It burned down in 1928. The current school was rebuilt on the same site in 1929 — this time to be as fireproof and structurally sound as possible. Additional classrooms and wings were later added during World War II, and again in 1969 and 1996.


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