Housing Trust Approves $476K For Fire Station Apartments

by William F. Galvin
The new doors to the town's fire station on Bank Street are the latest improvements in the restoration project. WILLIAM F. GALVIN PHOTOS The new doors to the town's fire station on Bank Street are the latest improvements in the restoration project. WILLIAM F. GALVIN PHOTOS

HARWICH – The affordable housing trust voted unanimously last week to provide $476,000 to fund three one-bedroom apartments on the second floor of the former fire station under restoration on Bank Street. The Harwich Fire Association is also making a plea for $400,000 in Community Preservation Act funds for the project.

The units would be available to residents with incomes that are 80 percent or less of the average median Income in Barnstable County.

The association, together with the Harwich Conservation Trust, is working to restore the historic first fire station built in town and improve parking facilities in association with the eco-restoration of a major portion of the adjacent Robert F. Smith Cold Brook Preserve, which will include an overlook leading into the preserve.

The overall estimate to finish both projects is $1.2 million, former fire chief Norman Clarke, a spokesperson for the HFA, told the trust.

The association’s initial request for financial assistance from the trust was $450,000 — $150,000 per unit — but firefighter Joe Rego, the project manager, told the trust on Jan. 8 that an additional $26,000 in contingency funds is needed, making the request $476,000.

“If we don’t need it, it won’t be spent. If we don’t spend it, you’ll get it back,” said Clarke.

Rego said the association is working with Cape Light Compact to put in place a number of energy-saving components for the new apartments. The group has also met with trades people and asked them to “sharpen their pencils.” The group is looking at using Cape Tech students and possibly a workforce from the Barnstable County House of Correction to reduce costs. Supply companies such as Mid-Cape Center are also providing discounts, Rego said.

Trust member Brendan Lowney crafted a spreadsheet on outstanding costs, estimating $1 million is necessary to complete the fire house work. Lowney asked about the status of a $400,000 request for Community Preservation Act funds. With the CPA and trust contributions, the project would be short by about $164,000, he said.

“We’re not asking for every cent,” Clarke said, adding that “a lot of sweat equity has gone into this project, and we can raise whatever we need to finish this project.”

The community preservation committee met last Thursday and discussed the association’s request, which initially was for $850,000 but was reduced to $400,000 with the trust’s approval of the $476,000. CPC members made it clear they support the request, but no official vote to recommend the funding to town meeting was taken.

“We approved $350,000 last year,” community preservation committee member Kathy Green said. “We took a leap of faith. They took the money and went right to work. It’s great, we haven’t had much of that. I do believe they are determined enough to get this project done. I do think we should take another leap of faith with them.”

Community preservation committee member Mary Maslowski said the town will be getting three affordable housing units it wouldn’t otherwise have. That’s a bonus to the historic renovation of that building, she added.

In the trust session, Harwich Conservation Trust President Tom Evans said he has spent his life working with nonprofit organizations, and raising funds for projects. “It’s a leap of faith,” Evans said of seeking grants and donations to meet the cost of a project. He praised the sweat equity the association has put into this project.

Evans stressed the importance of the trust providing the funds so the project can continue to move forward. The trust funds will allow work on the station to continue through the spring and into July, when CPA funds would be available if approved by town meeting, he said. The conservation group will be doing additional fundraising to address the parking improvements and the overlook at the entrance to the preserve, he added.

The approval comes with the condition that includes 10 separate payments based on progress made in phases of the restoration, and with the assurance that the three units will meet the state requirements to be included on the town's subsidized housing inventory list.

Trust chair Larry Ballantine announced with a smile, “this is the first action as a trust” to add affordable housing in the community.