Franklin Street firehouse needs $2.3M worth of work

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The Marblehead Select Board’s 2023 warrant articles will include a request to override Proposition 2 1/2 to finance the restoration of the Franklin Street firehouse. 

The Select Board took its vote on Feb. 8 after architects Ryan Foster and Erik Christensen summarized an assessment of the condition of the historic building that the town commissioned last year.

Fire Chief Jason Gilliland briefs the Marblehead Select Board on the Franklin Street Firehouse renovation. CURRENT PHOTO / WILLIAM J. DOWD 

“The firehouse is a wood structure built in 1886, and it has been continuously used as a fire station since its construction,” Foster told the Select Board. “It is one of the oldest continuously operated fire stations in the commonwealth.” 

Today, the firehouse at 3 Franklin St. complements the Central Station at 1 Ocean Ave., providing coverage in the town’s Old and Historic District. Fire Chief Jason Gilliland said a dozen firefighters work out of the Old Town location.

“Franklin Street has played a key role in keeping downtown safe for many, many years,” Gilliland said. “Fire grows twice in size every minute. We’ll do everything we can to make sure that the building stays there for a long time to come.”

Christensen projected photos detailing the breadth of work required. There are bricks that need to be repointed, wood trim that is rotting, shingles that are cupping, gutters that need to be repaired and accessibility issues that need to be addressed. 

The project aims to not just make the wooden building functional but restore the wooden building to its original state or, as the fire chief put it, “its former glory.” Work on this front would include bringing back a gabled cupola with decorative scrolls on the hose tower, Gilliland noted.

“The [red] shingle siding itself is not original,” Christensen said. “They’ve never removed the previous layer, so your original siding hides underneath the shingles.” 

The renovation plan calls for “a small amount of masonry.”

“There’s some mortar loss, and one of the biggest areas of masonry concern is at the top of the chimney,” Christensen said. “There are loose bricks up there.”

That is but one of the various spots that is enabling water to infiltrate the building, leading to further damage, according to Christensen. Meanwhile, Christensen said the roof was replaced not long ago and is in relatively good condition. 

“It’s not a major source of water infiltration other than where there’s some deterioration of the wood elements that surround the roof,” he said. “The roof flashings are in poor condition.” 

Upgrading the bathrooms and living quarters is listed among the interior items, and weatherization is a high priority. 

“Right now, there’s minimal insulation or energy-efficient elements,” Christensen said. “The wind definitely blows through.” 

The wind is not the only thing finding its way into the fire station, either. 

 “The windows are so loose that we’ll have birds and squirrels in the attic,” Gilliland said. 

The presentation on Wednesday only scratched the surface of all that there is to be done. The finalized report spans 400 pages, and the architects estimate the cumulative cost for exterior and interior work and upgrades to come in at around $2.3 million. Gilliland acknowledged the timing of the request comes as the town faces a possible general override to close an impending deficit.

A photo of what Franklin Street firehouse, tucked behind a residence, looked like in the 19th century. COURTESY PHOTO

“I think the main thing we have got to stress is that we’re not losing sight of the financial condition and challenges of the town,” Gilliland told the Marblehead Current

The town would approach the financing of the firehouse’s renovation through the same private-public model used for the Fort Sewall renovation, Town Planner Becky Cutting said.

“We put an article on the Town Meeting warrant for this year if we’re ready [to proceed],” said Cutting, adding that she and the chief have been trying to pin down other sources of capital. “We’ve identified some grants and want to pursue the Fort Sewall model … to give the best value to taxpayers.” 

She and Gilliland secured a Massachusetts Historic Preservation Grant to finance the assessment of the conditions. Cutting said they would have a better idea of costs in about a month. 

“We’ll probably be back in the next month to tell you how we’re doing with that and where we are with that,” she said. 

Cutting also planned to post the full 400-page report on the town’s website. 

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