Chester board tours firehouse, proposes panel on its future

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2016 Telegraph Publishing LLC

ON THE COVER: From left, Select Board chair John DeBenedetti and Town Manager David Pisha.

Select board members Arne Jonynas and Ben Whalen look over the second floor of the Yosemite building before the discussion begins

Select Board members Arne Jonynas and Ben Whalen look over the second floor of the Yosemite building before the discussion begins. Photos by Shawn Cunningham.

The Chester Select Board met Friday at 4 p.m. to tour the Yosemite Firehouse and talk about forming a fact finding committee to look at the potential and the pitfalls of the town accepting the building from the Chester Historical Society.

The meeting started with an unusual Pledge of Allegiance to one of the small parade flags on the dashboard of the town’s 1931 American LaFrance fire engine. Board chair John DeBenedetti suggested that visitors go up to the second floor “a couple at at time” and directed any questions they had to historical society President Ron Patch.

A group of about 18 looked around the second floor while Patch pulled on a rope at the south end ringing the 1880 William Blake bell in the tower above.

Town Manager David Pisha suggested that a committee of five to seven people be put together to look at the issues around the town owning the building and report back to the Select Board. “What I’m possibly hearing is that if you are interested in serving on this committee, contact David. Just be aware that it’s an official town committee and subject to the open meetings law,” said DeBenedetti.

DeBenedetti and Chase talk during the inspection

Select Board members John DeBenedetti and Heather Chase talk during the inspection.

“I think that’s great,” said board member Heather Chase, “ we should announce it at our next meeting so it gets out to the wider community.”

“And I’d like to reiterate that I hope we’d have a broad range of the community,” said Pisha, “not just those who want to save Yosemite for its historic value but those who look at a financial perspective, what’s the long term value when we see it in 10 years what’s its use going to be etc., etc.”

“If we jump immediately to the finances, we might miss opportunity,” said Chase. “It would be my suggestion that the committee not go directly to finances because it kills creativity.”

As the board scheduled a date at which to appoint a board, Patch told the meeting that September was the deadline for the society to transfer ownership, but that they would need an answer sometime in July so that another party that’s interested in owning the structure could have time in case the town decided not to take it.

The discussion again turned to money as neighbor Lillian Willis said that the committee’s work would be more difficult if the ownership was not clear, while DeBenedetti questioned the strategy of taking the building first and then working out the details.

“I haven’t seen anybody write a check yet,” said DeBenedetti.

“Who do we make it out to?” replied Yosemite neighbor David Willis.

Chase pointed to three possible scenarios where the town could take ownership and perform varied levels of work on the building based on the availability of grants and donations. “If we have five to seven people, we could come up with a plan that doesn’t involve taxpayer funds,” said Chase.

Barre and Ben

Select Board member Ben Whalen, right, listens as Barre Pinske outlines his vision for a glass studio in the first floor of the fire house.

“If we don’t take it over, we have all the items in the building that we have to store,” said Arne Jonynas pointing to the price tag for putting the town’s antique fire equipment into storage rooms. “If we take it over, we’re saving $3,600 a year, even if we do nothing. We could put that money aside toward getting this place what it needs. It’s a slow way to get there, but we’re going in that direction.”

Barre Pinske suggested another path. “One way to have a building pay for itself is to put a business in it.” Pinske said he had talked with Chester glass artist Nick Kekic about the feasibility of putting a glass studio on the ground floor with “history upstairs.”

“I have a lot of ideas, maybe too many,” said Pinske. “But everytime I have an idea, it’s always taxpayers money, taxpayers money.” Pointing to the traffic on Route 103, Pinske said, “There’s people driving by who are involved with the building, we could put out a thermometer and raise the money.”

“We always find a way to pay for things that aren’t going to bring tourists here and keep them here.” said Frank Bidwell. “This is part of the history of Chester. Why wouldn’t we do everything we can to save the building and the stuff in it? We find the money for everything else, let’s not turn our backs on this building saying that it costs too much. There has to be a way, look at it as a challenge.”

The Select Board has set its June 1 meeting as the date to appoint the committee and those interested in being members should contact David Pisha at Town Hall.

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  1. Sandra Nichols says:

    One suggestion from a former Chester resident. Take over the building and get it proclaimed a “historic building.” It then becomes open to many grants for restoration and a new life. One building to look at is First Parish Brewster, Brewster, Cape Cod MA. There we formed a funding committee and also joined the state or federal government for a sizable grant to get started. Good Luck and know this can be done. I believe if this is the Chester Depot place on the corner my Mom and Dad Gordon and Florence Nichols had a big anniversary party there years ago!