Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

January 17, 2013

Ex-town manager: Repair fire station, don't replace it

By Dustin Luca
Staff Writer

---- — A Bannister Road resident who served as Andover’s Town Manager nearly 50 years ago is calling for the town to repair, not replace, its aging Ballardvale Fire Station.

Richard Bowen, the town’s second town manager, from 1964 to 1969, wants voters to approve $500,000 “for the purpose of repairing, rehabilitating, and otherwise restoring the BallardVale Fire Station.”

The station has stood at the corner of Andover Street and Clark Road for 122 years. Bowen’s article comes in direct opposition of town official efforts to rebuild the station away from its current home.

Buzz Stapczynski, the town’s current town manager, and Fire Chief Mike Mansfield declined to comment. Building a new station has been on Stapczynski’s Capital Improvement Plan for many years, and a task force spent last year reviewing sites.

But Bowen argues that, since it was first built in 1890, the station has operated without issue.

“There has been talk about replacing the Ballardvale Fire Station for at least the last 50 years,” he said. “You know something remarkable about that? During all that period of time, it’s continued to function admirably, notwithstanding the problems associated with the building.”

The problems are well documented. Looking beyond structural problems that have developed over the years, the station was once designed for a horse and buggy apparatus, so it is too small for today’s typical engines. The town must have a custom-built engine to serve the area from that station.

But according to Bowen, that is more the norm than the exception.

“There are some who say (keeping the station open) means we have to have a fire truck tailor-made,” he said. “Yeah, you do. Most fire trucks are tailor-made.”

Officials also raise concern over the sharp corner going from the station’s driveway to Clark Road, which they’ve said is difficult to get around in the event of an emergency.

But like the smaller engine size, the town should be able to live with the condition, according to Bowen.

That leaves the structural aspects, specifically the parts of the building that have weathered over the years. The $500,000 would remedy those to keep the station safe and usable, Bowen said.

“One of the problems of the building is it’s not up to code,” he said. “If it’s possible to bring it up to code, then the money would be used for that purpose.”

The dollar amount in the article is “a guesstimate,” and not an official number coming out of an engineering study or needs analysis of the building, according to Bowen.

That leads him to his motivation behind the article.

“I wanted it to be enough to get attention,” he said. “If my article does nothing more than to generate a healthy discussion of the issue of, ‘Should we replace the Ballardvale Fire Station?’ then it would have accomplished a great deal.”

While Ballardvale Fire Station Building Committee Chairman Dan Casper said he hadn’t seen the article and couldn’t comment on it, he said nobody involved with the article has spoken to the building committee.

He also rejected any proposal to keep the station online, an option that the building committee looked at early in its work, Casper said.

“We’ve always felt it is impractical. It doesn’t work,” he said. “The lot of land is way too small and the building is too small.”

While the building committee hasn’t seen Bowen’s proposal, Bowen said he’s watched the building committee’s work as it has been presented over the years. The process the committee has gone through is “impressive,” he said.

“It’s a big step in the direction of transparency,” Bowen said. “But it assumes at the very outset that we have to replace the station. What I’m saying is, ‘do we?’”

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