AYER — An article calling for use of Community Preservation funds to partially pay the cost of renovating the roof and cupola of the Old Fire Station on Washington Street passed by a majority vote at the recent Special Town Meeting, allowing $30,000 to be transferred from CPA funds set aside for historic preservation, which is one of the three categories covered by the Community Preservation Act.
Ayer voters agreed several years ago to adopt CPA, accepting a one percent annual surcharge on their property tax bills to establish and contribute to a CPA fund, which under state law can be used for only three purposes: open space and recreation, public housing or historic preservation. The fund is overseen by an elected committee – CPC – which reviews project funding requests each year and makes recommendations to Town Meeting.
In addition to the CPC’s recommendation to transfer the money for the stated purpose, the Board of Selectmen and Finance Committee also voted unanimously to do so.
But one resident objected. Given that the current owner of the building purchased it for “virtually nothing, why are we paying for his roof?” he asked.
Community and Economic Development Director Alan Manoian answered the man’s question.
Manounian said the “iconic” old building was an architectural gem in its day and that many in town felt strongly about saving it “for future generations.” But it was vacant for a long time and had deteriorated badly, including the original slate roof and cupola.
“It was close to falling down” he said.
Reuse Committee volunteers worked long and hard to come up with ” a path to re-purpose the building,” he said. Designed by a celebrated Boston architect, John Ernest Robinson, the former Fire Station isn’t on the National Historic Register due to upgrades that changed its facade, Manouian said.
Tracing the committee’s efforts, he said several requests for proposals went out but the best offer that came back was for just $1,000. Absent a buyer, the building would be demolished. But the selectmen tried one more time to save it. This time, the RFP produced three responses, the most favorable of which promised to properly preserve and restore the building. The proposal they accepted was for a small apartment complex with some affordable units that would place the property on the town’s tax rolls, Manouian said, adding that the owner’s investment in the property could be nearly $900,000 and that the
refurbished, occupied building would improve the streetscape and contribute to a “vibrant downtown.”
“He doesn’t have to do it,” he said of the owner’s proposed roof and cupola restoration.
The amount slated for the project covers only part of project costs and the town will have oversight, Manouian said. “That’s what CPA funds are for.”
Voters agreed. The motion passed with only a single “no.”