Ayer, well-known businessman eye historic fire station for affordable housing

Town partners with local business owner to restore preserved building

The historic Ayer Central Fire Station on Washington Street

AYER – It’s been a long time coming, but Alan Manoian thinks he’s finally found a winning deal for a former fire station.

The town’s director of community and economic development hosted a public hearing at the Board of Selectmen’s meeting late last year to discuss a grant application to the U.S. Department of HUD Community Development Block Grant program.

The town is looking for $800,000 that would help fund a renovation to an empty fire station on Washington Street that would create six affordable housing apartments.

With the public hearing going well, Manoian said recently that he and his department are entering a “grant-writing cocoon” in the hopes of submitting an application by the last week of February.

“We feel very confident with the application,” he added. “The Board of Selectmen trusted us and I thought to do the hearing at the board meeting to see the fulfillment of this noble effort.”

The station was first built in 1934 by George Ernest Robinson, one of the most famous fire station architects, and the station was at the time featured as a national building model for other stations to follow.

The Ayer Fire Department moved to its larger current headquarters on Main Street in 2006.

Since 2008, the town has been looking to sell the property to someone willing to preserve the location. Manoian specifically believes it should be sold to an owner who wants to preserve and re-purpose it, highlighting its convenience to local amenities.

“It’s a three-minute walk from public transportation,” he noted. “This should sell as a ‘lifestyle product.’”

Manoian said he and his department got approval for a CDBG grant through the state worth $750,000 back in 2017. Many proposals came in and Manoian had a strong deal from a potential buyer, but the buyer later backed out in October of that year due to a lack of matching funds and forced Manoian to give back the approved grant money.

In stepped Calvin Moore, a fifth-generation Ayer resident, owner of The Billiards Cafe whose family owns Moore Lumber & Hardware Co. He said he’s had his eye on the building since it was first abandoned nearly 15 years ago. He did note that the property abuts his own on Washington Street, but also how it matters to the town.

“It has historical value,” Moore said. “It’s a historic building, with a lot of those falling down in other towns. It feels like the right thing for us to do. The town has been good to us so we’re giving back to it.”

The new grant application process restarted at the beginning of 2019, when Manoian toured 75 people through the fire station in January. Producers for the Hulu series “Castle Rock” approached the town early in the year about possibly using station as a shooting location for its second season. Manoian said the producers later backed out, with Moore citing lead and asbestos in the building as the reason. Moore added that he’s fixed those concerns with the building.

Manoian said the renovation work to be done before establishing the apartments include restoring the station’s facade, entrances and cupola, along with new landscaping and demolishing a garage added to the structure in prior years.

“The economy has finally caught up with this building and what it can do,” he added. “People are more keen on understanding the historical value of these buildings.”

Moore explained that he would offer around $300,000 – $400,000 to pay for the construction work to combine with the money the town would earn from the federal grant. Moore added that once the renovation is completed, he would oversee the management of the apartments.