As Keene weighs what to do with its Hastings Avenue fire station, the results of a feasibility study say the city’s best bet might be to knock it down and start from scratch.
During its meeting Thursday, the city council heard a presentation from Robert Robicsek of Lavallee Brensinger Architects, a New England firm the city hired late last year to do design work for renovation of the fire station at 110 Hastings Ave., also known as Station Two. But the building is outdated, Robicsek said, and would need a major overhaul to be brought up to code.
“The building appears to be in usable shape at first glance, but it has a bunch of issues to it,” he said. “Most of all, the codes it was designed to are really, really old, and mechanically, the building [is] not in good shape.”
In 2019, the city performed a GIS survey to determine whether the Hastings Avenue station, which was built in the 1950s, was ideally located to meet the fire-safety needs of the west side of Keene, Andy Bohannon, Parks, Recreation and Facilities director said in December. The survey showed that the property was well located to serve West Keene.
The fire station was deeded to Keene in 2018 from the N.H. Adjutant General’s Office. In 1958, when the property was deeded to the N.H. Army National Guard to use as an armory, the deed included a clause stating that the property would be returned to the city if the National Guard no longer required it to fulfill its mission.
While the station has been in use by the city since 1998, Keene officials have known it needed work, so Lavallee Brensinger, which has an office in Manchester, was hired in December to see what options were on the table.
“After looking at [the state of the building] and discussing it, it was decided that we would look at a new facility in that same place,” Robicsek said.
Though the design work presented at the meeting was preliminary, Robicsek said the plan includes a community room and public lobby, living quarters for firefighters and a large bay for fire trucks. He noted that the current designs account for wetlands on the property, and there are no plans to build in those areas.
The project, including demolition of the current building, is estimated to cost around $7.5 million. Robicsek said that figure also includes a 10 percent contingency budget, given the preliminary nature of the designs and the volatile construction market.
Even though the building isn’t in the best shape, Fire Chief Mark Howard said it’s important for the city to have a facility in West Keene. He said it takes some pressure off the city’s central station on Vernon Street.
“We meet about 80 percent of our response standards currently citywide,” Howard said during Thursday’s meeting. “If Station Two wasn’t there today for the call volume that’s handled from that station — which is about 30 percent of the city call volume — we would not meet the national standards at all.”
He added that plans for the station’s future have not only taken into consideration the needs of West Keene today but also those the city may have down the road. While he said that he doesn’t expect much more development in West Keene in the next few decades, he does expect a continuing need for emergency services.
Councilor Philip Jones agreed, saying that the area has changed in the last 30 years. He noted that the city’s middle school is now in West Keene and said that in the past, the city’s largest employers used to be in south Keene, but now they’re on the city’s west side.
“The demographics of Keene are changing,” he said. “And we need to change with it.”