By Dustin Luca
---- — ANDOVER — A town manager from nearly 50 years ago is asking residents to repair, not replace, the town’s 122-year-old Ballardvale Fire Station despite decades of efforts aiming to do the opposite.
Richard Bowen, who served as the town’s second town manager from 1964 to 1969, has circulated and filed a private warrant article for the upcoming Annual Town Meeting. The article raises $500,000 “for the purpose of repairing, rehabilitating, and otherwise restoring the Ballardvale Fire Station.”
“There has been talk about replacing the Ballardvale Fire Station for at least the last 50 years,” Bowen said. “You know something remarkable about that? During all that period of time, it has continued to function admirably, notwithstanding the problems associated with the building.”
There is a long-standing record of problems at the building attributed to its age. While there are structural issues that have stacked up over the years, the station was designed for a horse and buggy fire fighting apparatus, so it is smaller than most fire houses. Today, a specially designed, smaller truck must be on hand to fit under the station’s lower ceiling.
The station also sits on an awkward street corner where Clark Road and Andover Street connect. The truck must make more than a 270 degree turn to get onto Clark Road.
But despite the size of the station and its location, it has continued to serve the community well, according to Bowen.
“As somebody who’s relied upon the station for 48 years, and recognizing that a lot of other people have relied upon it for 122 years, why not [keep it operational],” he said. “It’s certainly among the oldest of any public buildings in the town. It deserves better than to be tossed into a scrap heap.”
When reached by phone, both Andover Fire Chief Mike Mansfield and Town Manager Reginald “Buzz” Stapczynski, who have long argued for building a new station elsewhere in town, declined to comment on the article.
Ballardvale Fire Station Building Committee Chairman Dan Casper similarly declined to weigh in on Bowen’s proposal, though he said keeping the current station online isn’t an option.
“We looked at it at the very beginning,” he said. “We’ve always felt it is impractical. It doesn’t work. The lot of land is way too small, and the building is too small.”
Casper also raised doubts about the dollar amount on the article and whether it would do the job to bring the building up to code.
Bowen said the $500,000 figure is “a guesstimate,” a dollar amount picked “to be enough to get attention.”
In the end, with a $5.7 million budget deficit facing the Bancroft Elementary School and an $18 million price tag historically associated with replacing the Town Yard, Bowen said he wants people to talk about the project.
If all the article does is stir up conversation as to why it must be replaced instead of repaired, then “it would have accomplished a great deal,” he said.
However, he still holds true to his beliefs.
“We’re talking about $18 million for a public works facility on the border between Andover and Lawrence,” he said. “Is there an alternative to any of these?”
“There is an alternative,” he said. “Keep using the old one.”
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