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New fire station ready for formal ‘historic’ review

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GROTON — Officials could see light at the end of the tunnel Tuesday night. Town Manager Mark Haddad and the Historic District Commission agreed that preliminary discussions about a new Center Fire Station have brought the issue to the point where a formal application could be presented to the commission for review.

To get to that point, Haddad and a team of architects and engineers appeared before the HDC over the past several weeks seeking members’ input on design plans for the proposed station.

The input allowed architects to hone their design in such a way as to be acceptable to commissioners concerned about maintaining appearances in the historic district.

The proposed fire station is to be located along Farmers Row and within the historic district where the commission holds sway.

Architect Donald Walters opened his remarks at last Tuesday night’s HDC meeting by informing commissioners that the proposed station would be three stories tall and total 18,755 square feet, slightly larger than previously reported.

As proposed, the new fire station is to 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 will be barn-like complete with rooftop cupola and clapboard siding the better to blend in to the surrounding historic district.

A potential problem however, is the building’s height which original plans had placed at 47 feet.

That ran into the town’s zoning regulations that allow for a height of only 35 feet in residential areas. So unless the site on which the station is to be constructed was rezoned for municipal use, planners would be forced to reduce the 47 foot high training tower to the lesser height.

Which was exactly what Haddad said would be done even if the zoning were changed at some future date.

In reducing the height of the training tower, planners were also able to bring down the roof over the garage and later to align the gable over the administration section with the new roofline as well.

“Bringing down the height is an improvement,” noted HDC Chairman Daniel Barton. “Some elevations are beginning to work now.”

Pleased with the overall barn-like appearance of the station, particularly the pitch of the roof, Barton nevertheless warned Haddad that if nothing were done to further reduce the bulk of the building, complaints received by the commission from neighborhood residents would continue.

“You’re making a lot of good progress,” said fellow commissioner Laura Moore of the design. “I really appreciate your responding to our feedback.”

“It looks better than it did in the last few meetings,” agreed HDC member Sanford Johnson.

Other concerns beside size and height raised by the commission last Tuesday night included the gable over the administration section being aligned with the garage roof, window designs, and incorporating an outthrust utility shed into the main building.

With the conclusion of last Tuesday night’s meeting, Haddad said he was prepared to file a formal application with the commission but Barton suggested one more special interim meeting to nail down all the details before moving forward.

Barton suggested that designers rethink such items as roof lines, basements, and entranceways for presentation of alternatives at the meeting.

The interim meeting was scheduled for Sept. 11 with the hope by Haddad to have the application filed to begin the formal review process sometime in October.

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