Bedford Fire Station Committee Requests January Ruling from HDC

November 2, 2023

As the Bedford Fire Station Building Committee continued fine-tuning details for the Historic District Commission (HDC) on Wednesday, it also requested that the panel consider issuing a decision in January.

“We are hoping we will submit an official package for a request for a vote in January,” said Town Manager Matt Hanson, a Building Committee member. That way, he said, the committee could concentrate on community education in the ensuing weeks culminating with Annual Town Meeting, which begins on March 25.

The fire station is planned for 139 The Great Road, which is within the Bedford Center Historic District. Any exterior changes to the district must be cleared through the commission. The Building Committee has tried to integrate input from HDC members at their monthly meetings.

If the HDC rules as appropriate a demolition permit for the existing structure and the proposed fire station design, the 2024 Annual Town Meeting warrant will include an article for construction at 139 The Great Road.

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Among the updates presented Wednesday were:

  • The 2,400-square-foot outbuilding planned for the rear of the site will not be used for maintenance of the ladder truck, which means the roof line will drop from 20 to 14 feet. “It’s a good solution to meet our needs,” Hanson said. 
  • The separate public entrance to the complex will be in the rear, facing south, with a sidewalk connecting to The Great Road, noted Sean Schmigle, lead architect on the project. The emergency access road on the west side of the lot will be reduced from 24 to 20 feet wide to provide for more buffer space. 
  • Parking on the site is being reduced to 21 spaces for the public as well as the firefighters.
  • Renderings incorporating elevations presented a gabled roof with dormers facing the street, and a mansard style roof on the sides. One rendering presented the building in dark gray, contrasting to previous iterations in white. 

“We are still in schematic design,” said Schmigle. “We will have opportunities to see greater detail.” 

He added that civil engineers are continuing to refine plans for grading the sloped station site. Upcoming plans will illustrate other exterior elements, how the stones from the wall in front can be salvaged, and details on whether any adjacent trees can be saved.

In answer to a question from member Karen Kalil-Brown, Interim Fire Chief Paul Sheehan said apparatus will be able to turn left from the station and head west uphill on The Great Road. Capt. Mark Sullivan added that the turning radius for the ladder truck was calculated for future needs.

HDC member Karl Winkler asked the architect to move the outdoor generator and transformer away from nearby residences, and to consider turning the outbuilding 90 degrees so the door isn’t visible from the street.

Also at Wednesday’s meeting, former Selectman Don Corey challenged an architectural historian’s report that the building at 139 The Great Road is not a historic carriage house. Corey sent a detailed message to the HDC on this topic three weeks earlier.

One of the first steps local officials took once Town Meeting approved purchasing the site for a fire station in March 2022 was engaging the Preservation Collaborative of Medford to determine the historic significance of the building at 139 The Great Road, a former residence that most recently was used for offices and research.

After an investigation over several months, the head of the consulting firm, Ryan Hayward, reported that there was, at one time, a carriage house on the site, but this was removed and replaced with the current building early in the 20th century. The report’s executive summary declares, “It is a non-contributing resource to the Center Historic District.”

Corey, a longtime local historian, said Wednesday that renovation of carriage houses was common in the late 19th and early 20th centuries – there are three examples within a block of the fire station site. He pointed out that electricity and indoor plumbing were already accessible along The Great Road in the early 1900s.

Corey said that if the HDC grants a demolition permit for the structure, it would authorize removing a “contributing element” in the historic district as defined in the National Register of Historic Places. He added that demolition is prohibited if any state or federal funds are expended for the project.

Commission members who responded repeated previous assertions. Member Alan Long said the preservation report was compromised by several insertions of Hayward’s personal opinions on the appropriateness of a fire station. Winkler said that regardless of the building’s origin, “It’s more important to make sure we have our first responders doing what they need to do.”

[Editor’s Note: The outbuilding square footage was updated from 6,00 to 2,400 square feet on 11/3/2023.]

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