AYER -- A Special Town Meeting brought six articles before the voters; most were passed with little discussion.
The first article, to allow the Board of Selectmen to take care, custody, maintenance and control of the town-owned Central Fire Station, passed after clear opposition from the audience. The article allows the BOS to sell or lease the property.
"As Town Meeting will recall, last fall we brought forward a similar article for your consideration, which was amended to only allow the BOS to lease or rent the fire station," BOS Chairman Pauline Conley said.
"We attempted that, we put out an RFP, we extended the deadline on the RFP, we had a couple of interested parties take the RFP out but never return it," she said.
"So we bring forth the same article, asking the town meeting to give the BOS permission to find either a buyer or someone who wants to lease the building long-term," said Conley. "The distinct probability is that we will sell the building because to improve the building is upwards of several millions of dollars and whether someone who is willing to rent it is willing to invest that kind of money remains to be seen. The purpose of the article is to give the BOS the opportunity to dispose of the building somehow, in a way that would benefit the town."
"I do not understand in the last 10 years or so that this has gone on, why this building has not been listed as historic. It fully qualifies," Jeff Mayes said. "If we sell it there is no guarantee that someone isn't going to just tear the building down.
"It needs a lot of work, I fully admit that," he said. "It's millions of dollars of work, but we have fine examples, one would be Town Hall, of a building that was in horrible shape that we were able to restore. We have other buildings on Main Street and Pleasant Street School. There is no reason why we should be doing this unless the building is preserved in some way. There's nothing (in the article) to stop someone from tearing the building down."
Conley said that while the former Pleasant Street School is a fine example of a rehabilitated old building, it was not owned by the town when it was refurbished. The town currently owns the fire station and it is becoming too costly to keep.
George Bacon proposed an amendment to the article to include that "all sales from the building should go to the community preservation fund" rather than outstanding expenses to the town.
"Some people may argue that these funds should go to the outstanding expenses, but I believe that we're always going to have outstanding expenses to deal with," Bacon said. "This town handles its finances very well, we don't need to sell off our possessions to keep the lights on."
The amendment was voted down.
Selectman Chris Hillman listed costs of upkeep and rehabilitation of the building after a member of the audience asked for an estimated value.
"The building has been closed since 2006," he said. "To restore just the outside appearance would cost $80,000. To stabilize the interior would cost $500,000. To design an interior to suit uses, $800,000 to $1.1 million. Total estimated construction costs, $1.3 to $1. 6 million. I could support renovating this building if we had a use for it. I don't see a use for it ... it has sat for such a long time. It's beyond repair, in my opinion."
The old fire station costs the town nearly $7,000 in general expenses each year.
After much discussion, the vote, which required a two-thirds majority, passed with 44 affirmative and 13 negative.
As for the others, articles two, three, four, five and six nearly passed unanimously except for articles two and five, which received one negative vote.
Article two accepted Easy Street as a public way. Article three appropriated the sum of $70,000 to replace the Crabtree Wastewater Pumping Station. Article four allows the police department to enter into mutual aid agreements. Article five allows a transfer of $45,000 from the town's stabilization fund to upgrade the telephone systems for the DPW, police, library and Town Hall. Article six allows the BOS to transfer $2, 506 from its salary line item to the IT departmental budget for a Mondopad (computerized touch screen) for use in the Town Hall conference room.
A Special Election is set for Nov. 5 at Town Hall from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. to vote on changing the Board of Selectmen from five members back to three.
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