Old court eyed for Fire Deptartment offices

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by Patrick Cronin

Hampton Union, October 28, 2011

[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]

HAMPTON — Selectmen are eying the renovation of the more-than-century-old Hampton District Court building to house the Fire Department's administrative offices. The building has been vacant since 2005, when the court moved due to problems with mold and fleas.

The board discussed the idea Monday after hearing from town Heritage Commission members, who said they would like to save the Winnacunnet Road building from demolition.

"I think it's something worth looking at, and it's a project immediately on our radar," said Selectmen Chairman Richard Nichols.

The board directed Fire Chief Chris Silver to look into the option as he prepares to present plans to the board on Nov. 21 for a new fire station at the beach and a pared-down headquarters addition on the Winnacunnet Road facility for under $4 million.

Using the old courthouse, officials said, would allow the department to move its headquarters (administrative offices and dispatch) from the beach to uptown.

Susan Erwin of the Heritage Commission told the board Monday the 1873 building has served as home to Hampton's public kindergarten, the American Legion Post No. 35 hall, Fire Station 2 and, finally, Hampton District Court.

"The Heritage Commission would really like to see the building saved," Erwin said.

The commission came to the meeting in light of recent talks by some selectmen about possibly demolishing the building after it was vandalized earlier this month with graffiti.

Ben Moore, a former selectman who severed as representative to the Heritage Commission in 2005, said the structure of building is in good condition.

Moore said the commission in 2005 hired architect John Merkle via a grant to see if the building was worth saving after the state relocated the court to Seabrook because the building was infested with mold and fleas.

The report back to the board was that the building was in "fine condition with the exception of cosmetics."

Moore said the issue is taxpayers will not put a dime into the building unless it's used for something.

"If there is not an adaptive reuse ultimately it will sit there and the decision will be made for us," Moore said.

Moore said there was talk of using the building as the headquarters by then fire chief Hank Lipe, but the idea never gained momentum. A warrant article to rehabilitate the building for the purpose was killed at the town's deliberative session in 2006.

Selectman Mike Pierce said Monday that using the building for the Fire Department's administrative offices is "something that should be considered and would kill two birds with one stone."

Town Manager Fred Welch said it would be costly, and Moore admitted the building would probably have to be gutted.

"I don't think you would save any money using a structure like this," Nichols said. "But you might spend a similar amount on what you would spend on new construction to rehab the building."

Nichols said selectmen already told the fire chief they support the $3.2 million proposal to construct a new fire station at the beach, but oppose the $4.6 million plan for a headquarters addition to the uptown station.

Since the board wants any plan to come in under $4 million, Nichols said the use of the old courthouse may a viable option, and they would have $800,000 to work with.

The chairman said it may be a temporary solution because in five to 10 years the board could look at the $4.6 million proposal to upgrade the existing town fire station with additional bays on Winnacunnet Road.

Welch said it will come down to cost.

"Theoretically, the Fire Department can go in there," Welch said. "The question is: Can we afford to do it?"

Moore noted the building could also be moved to free up what he called a valuable piece of real estate.

"It won't lose historical value because it was already moved," Moore said.

The building was originally constructed on the site where Centre School currently sits. It was moved to the Winnacunnet Road location in the 1920s.

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