WEST LEBANON — Plans to build a new West Lebanon fire station on the site of a former Catholic church on Maple Street are drawing opposition from neighbors who worry that ambulances and firetrucks could disrupt life in the quiet neighborhood about a block away from the current station.

Residents peppered Fire Chief Chris Christopoulos during a “community conversation” on Monday night with questions about his plan to mothball the current West Lebanon station on Main Street and build the new one at 38 Maple St., the former home of Holy Redeemer Church.

Christopoulos has estimated that the project will cost $6.4 million if a sale of the nearly 2-acre property can be negotiated this year.

Speaking in Holy Redeemer’s old parking lot, some people wondered whether the station’s construction could result in more noise and traffic, while others worried that a station on a residential street could drive down their property values.

Many of the more than 40 neighbors who attended the hourlong discussion said that Christopoulos should look elsewhere.

“We all want a good station. We just don’t want it here,” said Rich Kremer, who lives at the intersection of Maple Street and Highland Avenue.

Kremer said that other city-owned facilities, such as the public works garage and police station, aren’t in highly populated areas. Why, he asked, can’t the same be true of the fire department?

“We’re behind you to build a good fire department,” he said. “But whether this is the right location is something that there will be serious conversations about.”

Christopoulos responded that maintaining a West Lebanon station is important and a central location helps firefighters and paramedics respond to Route 12A, downtown and Route 10 neighborhoods quickly.

Overall, he said, the current station responds to about 775 emergency calls a year, with 550 of those within West Lebanon itself.

“It is an important asset to the city. We can’t just say, ‘Let’s abandon it,’ ” he told the crowd. “It will have a major impact on service, delivery and response times to the west side.”

Christopoulos’ search for a new West Lebanon fire station started last year after a study of Lebanon’s public safety buildings found that two of the city’s stations — those in downtown and West Lebanon — are too small and “not designed for the uses they see today.”

The current West Lebanon station was built in 1974 and sits on a roughly half-acre parcel of land that’s surrounded by commercial interests and an often-congested travel corridor, making it difficult to expand, consultants said.

And although the fire station is considered in “fair condition,” officials argue it needs accessibility upgrades, better insulation, new heating units and a new roof. The fire department, which is looking to better diversify, also is calling for gender-specific locker rooms, showers and sleeping quarters.

The Manchester-based firm Lavallee Brensinger Architects recommended that the fire department seek out a site that is at least 1 acre in size, wouldn’t affect response times and has access to both sewer and water.

Christopoulos said that led him to four potential spots in West Lebanon — the River Park development, South Main Street and Waterman Avenue, Market Street near Lebanon’s wastewater treatment plant, and the Holy Redeemer property.

He said negotiations regarding land at River Park and near Waterman Avenue ended because of cost, while the site close to the treatment plant was ruled out because of its location in a flood plain.

That left the Holy Redeemer site, which Christopoulos said can be developed for almost $2 million less than its competitors.

Holy Redeemer started in 1901 as a mission church serving West Lebanon and grew to become its own parish in 1953. Through bingo nights and other fundraising activities, parishioners raised enough money to construct the church building on Maple Street in 1961. That building served its congregation until 2003 when Holy Redeemer merged with Sacred Heart.

The Diocese of Manchester in 2005 proposed selling the 3-acre property for less than $950,000 to a Nashua-based development firm, which proposed knocking down the old church and building six homes in its place. However, those plans failed to pass Lebanon’s land use boards.

Instead, the diocese sold the parcel for $575,000 to Hanover developer Jolin Kish, who in turn sold the parish hall to the Olivet Baptist Church for $510,000 five years later. (That church had leased the land from Kish since 2006.)

She still owns the former Holy Redeemer church building that the city would buy for the fire station. It is currently assessed at $339,700, according to city records.

Christopoulos said that if the new station were built, its vehicle bays would align with Tracy Street, giving firefighters quick access to Main Street, which also is Route 10.

In most cases, he said, sirens and lights wouldn’t be activated until first responders turn onto Main Street.

Christopoulos said work at the Holy Redeemer property also would seek to fix drainage issues that can cause rain to pool and impact traffic on Maple and Tracy streets.

“I want to be a good neighbor. I truthfully do,” he said.

But neighbors said they were skeptical that the fire station could be an appropriate fit on Maple Street.

“I live right behind here and I’m not very excited about having a fire station,” said Donald Hemenway, who lives on Mack Avenue and noted that public safety radios and running engines from the existing fire station can be heard on Main Street.

“I don’t need to be sitting out on a deck that’s half done listening to that,” he said.

Meanwhile, Perry Seale, who owns several properties in West Lebanon, said noise and traffic issues are fixable and shouldn’t stop Lebanon from building a new fire station.

“I want to encourage us not to be fearful of the fact that there’s an unknown but that we can lean into it, have healthy discussions and get good outcomes,” he told his neighbors.

The Lebanon City Council is scheduled to discuss the new fire station proposal during its meeting at 7 p.m. Wednesday, and Christopoulos has requested a public hearing be set for Aug. 18.

Tim Camerato can be reached at [email protected] or 603-727-3223.

Source News