July 27, 2006

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Manchester Publisher's Note: All smoke, no fire
By†Jody Reese

The Weston Fire Station has been torn down, and thatís a shame.

It didnít need to come to this, even for a cash-strapped city like ours.

For starters the building should have been sold earlier or maintained for some city purpose. However, given the cash-less position of city government, itís understandable that thousands were not spend on keeping the building up. It has little or no value to city government.

In cases where there is no practical or affordable use, city government should work to find someone in the private sector to buy the building, even for a dollar. This does three things. It gets the building onto the tax rolls, saves the city demolition money and, of course, saves the building.

In the Weston Fire Station case, city government felt the building was beyond repair and posed a danger to its neighbors. So the decision was made to tear it down for a cost of $32,000.

There was an offer from activist Mike Duffy to buy the building for $1. The mayor and aldermen passed on that offer because they feared that the building was in such bad shape that it couldnít be saved and would continue to sit abandoned, creating a real danger to neighbors and the children attending McDonough Elementary School. There was also an issue with additional money that Duffy asked the city to contribute to help rehab the property.

Though itís true from the demolition that the building was in horribly bad shape (it easily came down) and that with the tower pieces of the building would come lose and harm or even kill someone, the city could have worked with Duffy or someone else who didnít want the $100,000 to create an agreement that required him to not only insure the building but also tear down the tower and secure the building with the oversight of city building inspectors. The agreement could have also called for Duffy to make major improvements by a certain date or the building would become property of the city and get torn down.

The demolition of the station should also be a lesson to the preservation groups in the city. These structures should be identified earlier and brought to the attention of the community and city government so action can be taken before itís too late.

In this case, the preservation community didnít take the steps necessary to notify the board of mayor and aldermen until the last minute. Itís hard to feel sympathy for them at the midnight hour. To be blunt, the ship has sailed, docked and been unloaded.

As for the city, Ward 4 Alderman Jerome Duval and Mayor Frank Guinta have the right idea about passing an ordinance that forces city government to keep track of the historic properties it owns and continue to care for the them or, better yet, sell them.

In a city as large as Manchester with city employees focused on day-to-day services, such as trash collection, itís easy to see how historic structures can be missed. The fire house on Lake Avenue next to the Four Seasons Market that was torched a few years ago is another example of how these historic buildings can languish with little or no attention. I wonder how many other historic buildings the city owns are falling deeper and deeper into disrepair.

Manchester needs one person (on a very part-time basis) to keep track of these buildings and the agreements the city has in place with developers who got special deals to rehab the historic structures. A great example of why this is needed is the Sargent Museum that never came to pass. Itís now unclear if the agreement is broken and the city needs to take back the property.


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