MOUNT DESERT — A conceptual plan for renovation of the Somesville fire station calls for converting the community meeting room into living and sleeping quarters and workspace for firefighters and EMS personnel.
Members of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday said they regretted the proposed loss of the meeting room, with board member Geoff Wood expressing serious concerns.
“I didn’t realize when we were talking about rebuilding the Somesville fire station that we were eliminating the community space,” Wood said. “This is not something that’s going to go smoothly with a lot of residents.”
Selectman Matt Hart said, “I think having a community space in Somesville is important, but to me this [fire station renovation] takes priority, and the community space is a separate problem to solve. To me, public safety is a priority.”
“I would agree with that if we have to make a choice.,” Wood said. “I would certainly choose having the protection right down the road from my house over a community space. But I’m not sold on the fact that we have to make a choice.”
He and others noted that the meeting room in the fire station is where all Mount Desert residents go to vote, and it is used frequently for a variety of functions.
Wood said he had been under the impression that the fire station was to be enlarged, not just renovated.
“A $400,000 remodel is not a big project, and I thought we were doing a big project,” he said. “This feels as though it’s a diminishment of the vision of the Somesville presence of public safety.”
Board Chairman John Macauley said he agreed.
“I didn’t realize we were going to be losing our meeting room and it was all going to be on one floor,” he said. “I thought it was going to be a little more involved.”
After much discussion, the selectmen voted unanimously to ask Fire Chief Mike Bender to continue working with the architect to develop a more detailed version of the renovation plan that has been presented, but also to “explore the option of a community room addition.”
Bender had said in a memo to Town Manager Durlin Lunt that the proposed renovation would allow the fire station to be staffed 24/7 with firefighters and EMS personnel working in three rotating shifts. One fire truck, one tanker truck and one ambulance would be based at the Somesville station.
“The renovated facility will provide an opportunity to staff a station that is strategically located to serve the western side of the town for both fire and medical calls,” Bender said.
He said the primary responsibility of the staff in Somesville would be responding to fire and EMS calls in and around the villages of Somesville, Pretty Marsh and Hall Quarry. They would provide back-up coverage for the rest of the town.
Bender had asked Lunt if the selectmen might consider holding a special town meeting sometime this fall to ask voters to authorize carrying out the Somesville renovation project. The selectmen took no action on that Tuesday night.