The building at 139 The Great Road – the approved site for a new fire station – may not be as old as some historians thought.
Ryan Hayward, a preservation consultant engaged by the town manager to research the structure, told the Select Board on Monday that his investigation indicates it was erected sometime after 1875.
According to the Bedford Historical Society, the professional genealogist, Kathleen Kelly-Broomer, said the building was part of Jonathan Bacon’s estate, built in 1836. The society reported that the building was remodeled in the early 1900s.
Select Board Chair Emily Mitchell stressed that design sensitivity remains the focus, irrespective of the age of the specific building. “There’s still the integrity of the district as a priority,” she said.
After hearing from Hayward, the board met with two representatives of its owner’s project management firm, Steve Rusteika and Brian DeFillipis. They stressed that further project delays will mean “a significant increase in cost and schedule,” including short-term supply-chain disruptions and skilled-labor shortages.
The Special Town Meeting on Nov. 14 will decide on a petitioners’ article to suspend work preparing for the fire station project so the search process can be reopened. The proponents of the article maintain that a fire station at 139 The Great Road will irreparably compromise the historic district.
Hayward, president of the Preservation Collaborative, was hired to “develop a greater understanding of that site and its historical context,” said Town Manager Sarah Stanton. She said she hopes he will have the opportunity to walk members of the Historic District Commission and the Fire Department through the structure, which will be demolished if the fire station design gets Historic District Commission approval. Some commission members attended Monday’s presentation.
Stanton added that Hayward’s report is not expected to be ready before the Special Town Meeting.
The consultant told the board his research included not only books and archives, but also analysis of the “historic fabric.”
“I have gone through the building, opened up walls, tried to get a better understanding of what this building is, tried to answer questions about what is it, what was it, and how old is this building?” he said.
The last owner built a rear addition in the 1980s, he said, and “it’s not part of my analysis.”
Hayward said that his examination of the forward part of the house indicates that “there were two separate buildings there.” He said they date from “the last quarter of the 19th century,” although “all of the interior featured are 20th century.”
The consultant said his analysis included building materials. “Once you open up walls, there’s a very specific chronology of nails,” he explained, as well as different types of saw marks on the timbers, depending on the timing. “Sometimes it takes a trained eye to see it,” he said.
Hayward said other features help with dating – the number of panels on doors, the style of window muntins, a “decorative pattern common to last quarter of 19th century.” He said he is still pursuing other resources “that help create the architectural narrative.”
Introducing Steven Rusteika and Brian DeFillipis from PMA Consultants, the owner’s project manager, Stanton said the firm’s resume includes fire stations in historic districts. They especially noted a project in the historic Ballardvale section of Andover.
Stanton commented, “We are feeling very optimistic after visiting these stations that we’ll be able to build a beautiful station.”
Rusteika and DeFillipis presented a project timetable, beginning with the appointment of a building committee and selection of a designer. The actual design would cover February through November 2023, followed by the bid phase in February and March 2024.
Their timeline projected construction taking place beginning in April 2024 and ending in March 2025.
They said they plan to meet with Hayward, Fire Department staff, the Historic District Commission, the community at large, and “understand everyone’s wants and needs, get all the background.
“We want to make sure the building is sited in a way that meets the needs and wants of a modern fire station,” Rusteika said. He used words like “transparency, openness, thoughtfulness.”
“It’s so helpful to have folks on the team who understand and respect the needs of a historic district, who speak that language,” Mitchell said.
Both Stanton and DeFillipis cited small, but significant exterior details: the stone wall, trees, fencing, plantings, and even the font on signage. One design they work with added a cupola, he said. Stanton commented, “It really is iterative by nature to take into consideration all the stakeholders. DeFillipis added that listening is integral.”
Select Board member Ed Pierce commented that “the design is really important, fitting it into what the town wants to continue to look like. People really want to understand what the thought process is. The Building Committee, Stanton said, makes sure we have that thoughtful process.
“This is really exciting. It’s rare that we get to build a municipal building,” she added.