Architect Shows Plans For Renovated Eldredge Garage Filling Station

By: Alan Pollock

Plans for the former filling station at the Eldredge Garage property.

CHATHAM Though it’s not moving ahead as a top priority just yet, plans are coming together for the potential renovation of the historic filling station at the former Eldredge Garage property. Last week, an architect presented two plans: one that keeps the same building footprint, and another for replacing it with a slightly larger building.

Kurt Raber of Catalyst Architecture said his team thoroughly surveyed the small building before proposing the designs.

“Parts of the building are in quite poor condition,” he told the board last Tuesday. Certain portions are close to the ground and have suffered water damage and rot over the years, though those parts can be repaired. “It will be a significant amount of repair,” Raber said.

A planning committee for the property started work more than three years ago, and after 17 meetings recommended that the land continue to be used for public parking with open space and a walking path at the rear of the property. The filling station, the only remaining structure on the town-owned parcel, should be restored or rebuilt to host public rest rooms, a drinking fountain and water bottle filler, bike racks and a bicycle repair station, benches and trash receptacles. The building would also support the parking operation outside, either as a base of operations for a valet parking contractor or as a site for an electronic parking kiosk. It would bear a sign reading “Eldredge Garage” and would feature historical displays describing the now-demolished livery barn in its heyday.

Because the structure would need to meet current codes for building safety, energy efficiency and accessibility, Raber proposed remodeling the building, not restoring it to its exact original state. The remodeled building, which he presented as Scheme A, would keep the same 644-square-foot building footprint to host three single-occupancy bathrooms and a storage area.

“We can make that look like it’s always been there,” he said, though the roof would likely need to be raised somewhat to provide space for ventilation and other systems. The preliminary cost of the project would be just over $1.4 million, he said.

“The question comes, is this enough?” Raber asked.

His firm drafted Scheme B, a 1,094-square-foot public rest room that has some architectural elements that are similar to the existing building. This design would provide for two three-stall restrooms and additional storage space, with a covered porch that would serve as a waiting area for people using the restrooms or waiting for a ride to the beach. Influenced somewhat by the pandemic, the design encourages people to congregate outdoors.

“I think everybody’s thinking a little differently about how they use public facilities,” he said. The cost of Scheme B is estimated at $1.58 million.

Either design could, and arguably should, be located closer to the road than the existing service station, allowing better traffic flow and more options for siting underground drainage structures.

Select Board Chair Shareen Davis, who served on the planning committee, said neighbors stressed the need for the remodeled building to fit in with the neighborhood.

“I never imagined it to be bigger” than the existing service station, she said.

Board member Dean Nicastro said any move to demolish the building and fully replace it would require approval by the historic business district commission. He questioned the focus on providing bathrooms, given the facilities at Kate Gould Park. While the town is holding the line on spending because of the pandemic, “I do think it’s important to move ahead with something” at the next annual town meeting, he said. He suggested that the project be done incrementally.

Moving the structure closer to the road makes sense, board member Peter Cocolis said. Board member Jeffrey Dykens agreed, saying he doesn’t have a clear preference for a restoration or new construction. “I just want it to be up to snuff,” Dykens said.

While they opted to defer any further design work or construction proposals, board members agreed to seek around $50,000 in the next budget to install new drainage at the parking lot.

“We have severe flooding on Main Street every time we get a real heavy storm,” Health and Natural Resources Director Robert Duncanson said. A new drainage system would not likely interfere with any future construction on the site, he noted.

Holding off on further work makes sense now, Select Board member Cory Metters said.

“My biggest fear right now is that we have such a big basket of projects on our plate right now, that this project may have less urgency,” he said.