Fire House Survey Irks Selectmen

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Town Blames Precinct for Slowing Down Process

By Patrick Cronin

Hampton Union, Friday, November 6, 2009

[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]
The future of the Hampton Beach fire station has become a bone of contention between town selectmen and beach precinct commissioners. [File Photo]

HAMPTON -- A Hampton Beach resident is sponsoring a survey to see what others at the beach want to see done with the nearly century-old fire house once the Fire Department moves its offices uptown and constructs a sub-station off Ashworth Avenue. The move has raised the ire of selectmen.

"We just want to know what people want to do with the building," said Linda Gebhart. "How dare the town assume that we want to tear down an historic building. No one asked us what we want to do with it."

The survey -- which is available at local stores in the precinct -- gives residents four options regarding the building, including demolishing it for a parking lot.

An overwhelming majority of those who have filled out the survey so far want to save the 1923 building for use either as a community center or museum.

Hampton Beach Village Precinct Commissioner Gary Kubik said the commission agreed to allow the survey, as well as hire an outside expert to see if the building is salvageable.

He said the survey has nothing to do with current negotiations with selectmen who want to construct the beach fire station in the precinct's parking lot.

However, Selectmen Chairman Rick Griffin feels differently, especially since the precinct commissioners have not made a decision on whether they will put forth a warrant article to voters at the precinct's Annual Town Meeting asking them if they will agree to give up the precinct land for the new sub-station.

As part of the proposal, the town would like to tear down the old fire station building in order to limit the number of parking spaces the precinct would lose when the new substation is built.

If the old fire station is knocked down, the precinct would be out only 27 spaces, but if it isn't the number would be close to 50 spaces. While selectmen have agreed to negotiate with the precinct to make up 27 spaces, it has not agreed to make up 50 spaces.

"We just want them to make a simple decision," Griffin said.

Griffin, who lives in the precinct, said he believes the building should be demolished.

He said the survey being conducted is useless because the majority of precinct business owners are away for the winter.

"I think it's shameful they are doing it like this," Griffin said. "If they want a survey, they should put it on the ballot and let everyone vote for it.

"There is no one that I know who is going to vote to keep that building except Linda Gebhart and everyone at the Coffee Break Cafe," he said.

Kubik said he doesn't see why Griffin is so upset about the survey.

"The way I look at it is, basically, the town has two options; (the town) can build on (its) own site or they can work with the precinct," Kubik said. "It's almost being painted as if the commissioners don't make a move, we are the bad guys.

"We are not talking about property deeded in our name," the commissioner said, "we are talking about property deeded to the precinct."

Kubik said voters will have the final say on the issue at their 2010 Annual Town Meeting, but the commissioners want to put forth a proposal that will get approved.

"If we rush to put something forward and it's turned down, then what?" said Kubik. "We will be right back where we started."

Precinct commissioners' don't agree among themselves on what should become of the old fire house. Commissioner June White said she would like to see the building saved, while Commissioner Chuck Rage said he believes the building needs to go.

White believes the reason why selectmen are upset is because, if the station remains, then the town will have to compensate the precinct for a much larger loss in parking revenue.

"We all want a new fire station down here, and we all want to work together to make it happen," said White. "But I don't see why we have to rush into something before getting all the facts."

Griffin said the reason for the sense of urgency is because the town wants to move forward on the beach sub-station.

While the Budget Committee is pushing to have one bond article for both the beach fire station, as well as the addition to the Winnacunnet Road facility on the ballot in March, Griffin said the board can't even talk about that now.

"Any talk will be difficult without the precinct making a decision," Griffin said. "Everything is being held up because of the precinct."

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