RUMFORD – Selectmen on Thursday unanimously approved sending a warrant article to voters at the annual town meeting requesting that the town borrow up to $2.9 million to connect the Municipal Building with the adjacent fire station.
About $1.9 million of the figure would meet requirements by the state fire marshal and Occupational Safety and Health Administration for both the Municipal Building and the fire station.
The remaining money would be used to build additional space for fire department equipment, including a ladder truck that is too long to fit into the existing station, insure that more seating would be available in the historic municipal auditorium, and provide more space and a new entrance for the police department.
As proposed by the town’s Architectural Committee and architects Smith Reuter Lull of Bethel, about 15,000 square feet of additional space would be added.
“This would be a face lift the building has needed for quite a while,” said Jim Thibodeau, chairman of the board.
By late Thursday, the Finance Committee had still to vote on the recommendation.
“It seems like we’re being rushed into something awfully fast,” said Finance Committee member Ron Russell. “It took us 100 years to get here, and only two or three weeks to correct? I don’t believe they will shut us down.”
Town Manager Steve Eldridge said inspectors want a plan of action,
“It’s my job to keep people out of harm’s way. The town knew in 1998 that this building had problems. OSHA and the fire marshal told us these things need to be corrected,” he said.
Inspections were made to all municipal buildings in January. At that time, a deadline of April 15 was made to have a plan of action.
“The fire marshal is telling us to fix these problems on else. We can do the minimum or look ahead and do something beautiful. I’m in favor of us spending some money and not just a patch work job,” Selectman Jolene Lovejoy said.
She recounted some buildings that had been ignored for years such as the former Rumford Power Co. building on Congress Street that required millions of dollars in renovations once it was purchased and the old Stephens High School that was finally torn down a few years ago because it had been neglected for so long.
Selectmen Jim Rinaldo questioned whether this was a good time to sink so much money into the two buildings while the three core towns in the River Valley were discussing regionalizing one or more services.
Police Chief Stacy Carter, who also served on the Architectural Committee, said if the police departments of Dixfield, Mexico and Rumford should merge at some future time, sufficient space would be available in the newly renovated building.
Selectman Greg Buccina was concerned that the town would be trapped into a long-term loan and locked into remaining in the downtown if changes in the future warrant construction of a public service building on the outskirts of town.
The figure of $2.9 million is the highest selectmen could spend, Eldridge said.
During the next two weeks, at least one public hearing will be held on the options for spending that money, if residents approve it at town meeting.
Among the deficiencies in the Municipal Building are: lack of a fire alarm system, no egress from the court room, auditorium stairs that don’t meet the fire code, lack of lighting, and lack of fire wall doors and ceilings. In the fire station, a lack of an egress from the second floor and improper ceilings were among the violations.
Because the Municipal Building is on the National Register of Historic Places, Eldridge will seek some funding from grants; however, he said the town should prepare to borrow the full amount.
He estimated payments for 10 years for the full amount at about $366,000; for 15 years, $270,000; and for 20 years, $223,000, at an interest rate of 4.5 percent.