Beach Fire Station added to state Register of Historic Places

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87-year-old building eyed for demolition to make way for new station

By Patrick Cronin

Hampton Union, Friday, November 13, 2010

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

HAMPTON — The Hampton Beach fire station -- slated to be demolished as part of plans to construct a new substation at the beach -- is one of nine properties recently making the New Hampshire State Register of Historic Places.

Mary Kate Ryan, of the state's Division of Historical Resources, said the State Historic Resources Council voted earlier this month to add the 1923 building to the list.

"Mostly the designation is honorary, but for municipal owned buildings it does open up funding opportunities," Ryan said. "It means the precinct is now eligible, if they choose to apply, for Conservation License Plate ("Moose Plate") funds or other grants for repair and restoration."

Ryan said the designation does not prevent the precinct or the town from tearing down the building if it so desires.

"It will just be taken off the list," said Ryan, who was unaware of the town's ongoing discussions regarding the demolition of the building.

The application for designation as a historic place was submitted by the Hampton Beach Village Precinct, despite at least one member of the Precinct Commission, Chuck Rage, saying he knew nothing about it.

"This is a surprise to me," Rage said.

Rage said the precinct has already decided the fate of the nearly 100-year-old building when it voted during a special meeting in June to allow commissioners to work out a deal with selectmen to give its parking lot off Brown Avenue to the town to construct a new station.

Part of the plans viewed by residents included a proposal by the town to tear down the current fire station and turn it into a parking lot to make up for lost parking revenue for the precinct.

Precinct Commissioner June White said she filed the application with the knowledge of Chairman Gary Kubik.

"Even if the new fire stations are approved there is a lot of people both uptown and at the beach who want to save that building," White said.

White believes if the Fire Department vacates the building, the location would be a great place for a senior/community center.

The precinct commissioner said they could even lease out space in the building if it so desired.

But whether precinct voters would rather give up parking to save the building is the question.

"The business owners down here would never go for it," Rage said. "We have responsibility to follow through on the voters' wishes. When they voted, it showed the building being torn down for parking."

White said she doesn't believe the town's $8 million proposal — which includes $3.2 million for a substation and $4.3 million to turn the Winnacunnet Road fire station into the new headquarters — will get approved by the voters.

The new designation gives the precinct options to apply for different grants to restore the building to its former glory.

"This is an opportunity for us to move forward and fix it," White.

Ryan said they approved the designation because it's still an active fire station and it's the only building associated with the Hampton Beach Precinct, which formed in 1907 to provide municipal services to the beach-end community in Hampton

"It's the only building that was built by the precinct," Ryan said. "It's the only building that physically represents that particular part of the government."

Selectmen were less than thrilled to hear the news that the building is now a historic place.

The board and the precinct have been working on a memorandum of understanding regarding the transfer of precinct land to the town.

The proposal all along has called for demolition of the fire station.

"That is humorous," said Selectman Richard Bateman.

"In light of that, I think there should be a plaque on the other side of the street as well to commemorate the mold that died when the old police station was torn down."

Selectmen Chairman Richard Nichols said the problems with that building have been well documented over the years by Fire Chief Chris Silver.

Problems include lead paint, mold and a failing roof.

"I understand the sensitivity of the beach precinct people and I do have empathy on them," Selectman Jerry Znoj said. "We all care about culture and history, but there is a time you have to face reality. If your kid has a pair of dungarees on and they are worn out, you replace it."

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