GROTON -- Dotting their I's and crossing their T's, town officials involved with the design of a new Center Fire Station have been working on final details ahead of entering upon the formal special permit application process.
"We're getting very close," Town Manager Mark Haddad told members of the Historic Districts Commission last Tuesday night.
The occasion was a public hearing held by the HDC to review architectural plans for the new fire station planned for a location along Farmers Row and within the historic district where the commission holds sway.
In addition to Haddad and the HDC, the July 24 meeting was also attended by architect Donald Walters, whose firm was hired by the town to design the new station.
Walters opened his remarks by informing the commission that the two-story fire station would be three stories tall and total over 18,500 square feet.
"It is a big building," Walters admitted before noting later in the hearing that the design had been trimmed back from an earlier version.
Earlier in the year, the Board of Selectmen were given authorization by residents at annual Town Meeting to enter purchase negotiations with the Lawrence Homestead Trust, owners of the Farmers Row property chosen as the best site for the facility.
Cost of the 2.7-acre parcel, which is located along one of the town's most scenic drives, has been set at $350,000 with a final price tag for the fire station building itself estimated at $8
As proposed, the new fire station will include a four-bay garage and three-story administration complex with offices on the first floor; fitness room, dormitory, kitchen, dining room, and day room planned for the second floor; and HVAC and other mechanical equipment to be placed in the third floor "attic" space.
The building's overall design as confirmed in last Tuesday night's presentation will be barn-like, complete with rooftop cupola with clapboard siding, the better to blend in to the surrounding historic district.
A potential problem with the building's design however, is its height. Town zoning regulations call for a maximum height of 35 feet measured from the ground to the ridge of the roof and although the main part of the new fire station is expected to meet that requirement, an enclosed training tower has also been proposed at 47 feet.
Although Haddad said last Tuesday night that he expected the tower's height to pass muster, planning administrator Michelle Collette said further research of the town's zoning bylaws needed to be completed before a definitive answer could be had.
Other concerns raised by the HDC last Tuesday night included grading around the building, snow storage, the location of a retaining wall, parking, preservation of an existing tree where the driveway is expected to be placed, and the amount of area to be covered with asphalt.
A unique feature of last Tuesday night's presentation was a painting showing what the site would look like with the proposed building on location. The result was a pleasing, bucolic look with the large fire station much reduced by distance from the road and looking very much like the barn it is being designed to resemble.
HDC member Laura Moore liked what she saw.
"I'm really impressed," said Moore, adding that the design looked much better than other public safety buildings she has seen in New Hampshire.
Nevertheless, commission chairman Daniel Barton was not quite satisfied with the overall design, having trouble reconciling the barn look of the garage portion of the station to a faux farmhouse attached to it.
Also, commissioner Maureen Giattino wondered if window designs and location could not be improved so that they conformed more to what those of a real farmhouse might look like.
Agreeing that the design and layout of the site was very close to what the commission wanted to see, the fire station team agreed to meet with the HDC again on Sept. 18 when the outstanding issues are expected to be addressed.
In the meantime, said Haddad, a public hearing on the station design was scheduled for Aug. 8, wherein the public will be invited to express their thoughts on the project so far.