Bristol residents weigh in on fate of historic firehouse

BRISTOL — A highlight of Monday night’s Bristol town meeting was the extended discussion about how or if the selectboard should proceed with selling the old Bristol Fire Department building on North Street.
Should the town save the beautiful old structure, and could residents afford the cost of restoring the century-old building?
Bristol had been discussing what to do with the circa 1900 relic on North Street for more than a decade when last July voters approved a $3.19 million bond to build the new fire station off West Street. Firetrucks have been housed at various places around town and the building isn’t safe for hosting large meetings.
During Monday’s meeting, Selectman Joel Bouvier noted that the North Street fire station is one of the two oldest fire stations in the United States still in active use.
Fire Chief Brett LaRose pointed out that the Bristol Firehouse Design Committee, of which he is a member, recommended selling the building because of the steep price tag for renovation, which he said could be $500,000 to $800,000.
Some decried the loss of a town’s identity when public places are lost.
Ted Lylis reminded residents of the loss to the community in the demolition of such historic buildings as the Bristol Inn, the old high school and the old Saint Ambrose church.
Zoning Administrator Eric Forand addressed the kinds of uses that could be allowed on North Street, and someone suggested selling the building for $1 to a new owner willing to preserve and renovate the historic structure.
A final, non-binding straw vote on the fire station article was inconclusive, in part because of the wording of the article itself. It stated: “Will the voters advise the selectboard that the sale of 32 North Street (Bristol Fire Department) property be sold as is.”
None of the speakers at the meeting in Holley Hall advocated allowing the building to be bought and torn down, for example. And those who spoke addressed both the desirability and the difficulty of somehow preserving the historic structure.
Forty-five votes stood for a yea vote and 30 stood for nay. Among the nay votes were many of the strongest proponents of preserving and restoring the building.
The selectboard will take up further discussion on what to do with the North Street structure after the Bristol Fire Department moves into its new headquarters later this spring or early summer.

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