Monday, April 23, 2007

Fire Station Conversion

The Fire Department, for many reasons, appears intent on getting a new fire station built. This presents a few separate issues that are worthy of developing consensus. The first is whether it is worthwhile fighting this in order to maintain the ideal of an operating department in a beautiful historic building (as Seth Carey has worked to promote through letters to the Rumford Falls Times) or if it would be better to just attempt to influence what is built and what happens to the old station.

In the event of new construction: The current idea appears to be building a new fire station at the river end of Waldo Street. If a new station is to be built and this site is chosen, efforts should be made to emphasize the importance of a design that harmonizes with the historic architectural legacy. Another option would be to explore alternative buildings that could be adaptively reused. Perhaps some building already in existence along Waldo street or otherwise could be converted and be able to accommodate the fire equipment. This would provide a positive neighborhood anchor there and help preserve a historic building in an otherwise less desirable area in anticipation of when the area may be desirable riverside property again. This will be even more important if the mill closes and the Waldo Street area will suddenly be freed up from the aesthetic issues presented by its proximity to the mill and benefit from its proximity to a scenic view of the river and falls.

Adaptive re-use of old Fire Station: Combination Historical Society/Firefighting museum. This beautiful building can be a local area draw and active part of pulling people specifically to the Congress Street Area. It would also be a natural complement to the River Walk currently being developed by the town.

Several pieces of historic firefighting equipment are currently being stored behind the Rumford Historical Society Lufkin Museum. These pieces could form a nucleus for a Firefighting museum on the ground floor. Also, private individuals often lovingly restore old fire trucks as well and may be willing to donate or semi-permanently store these vehicles at the museum, thus providing a strong visual draw (which may be especially strong with children).

This situation would also be a good fit with a combined Rumford Historical Society Museum. While a museum already exists at the Lufkin School in Rumford Center, it is overflowing with artifacts. It also does not have space for the Society archives. The upper floor of the fire house could be used as a museum that focused on displays and artifacts more specific to Rumford Falls, Congress Street and the history of the Paper Mill. (The Lufkin School can then focus on the agricultural, educational and generally pre-mill history of the town. This arbitrary division, of course, would be flexible.) The children and adults coming to the Firefighting/Rumford Falls Historical museum could see the pictures and presentations on the area and then immediately walk out onto Congress Street and see what has changed and how much of the history is still preserved. The basement would also be a proper permanent space for the Rumford Historical Society archives. It would have the potential to be more accessible in terms of days and hours. (The current location on the top floor of the Town Hall is only accessible during the limited hours when the building is open.)

The combination of the two museums would be synergistic in several ways. Firefighting has a wide appeal. Travelers interested in Fire Fighting but not Rumford history and vice versa could be easily diverted onto the island from Route 2 and Route 108 by promotional signs. In addition to increasing tourist traffic, this type of regional museum would be an appropriate destination for elementary school field trips, planting seeds which promise to increase Rumford?s exposure and reputation.

Staffing would be simplified by a combined museum. Active and retired firefighters and family members might be expected to be interested in volunteering to staff such a museum. It might be more likely, however that the Historical Society would have a more ready supply of volunteers, since it pulls most of its membership from the ranks of the retired. The more potential volunteers, the more hours it would be available and likely the higher the quality of the displays and presentations.

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