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Council Split On Future of Kentlands Firehouse

Members differ on how much work to do before a final use is determined.

The Gaithersburg City Council agreed at their work session last night that emergency repairs need to be made to the Kentlands Firehouse.

The city will fix the leaky, collapsing roof and take some measures to address the storm water runoff issues that are damaging a neighbor's home.

But the ultimate fate of the firehouse, and the road that leads there, is very much up for debate.

"I think we've all reached the same conclusion for different reasons," Councilman Ryan Spiegel said.

Councilman Henry Marraffa, citing his background in the construction industry, said he didn't think the city should invest any money in the building until a buyer comes forward with a clear end use.

"I wouldn't do anything to this building until we have a potential buyer," he said. "We could end up duplicating at least 50 percent of the work. I would hold off doing anything that's not an absolute emergency."

He suggested taking the money the city was ready to invest for stabilization and give it to the buyer to use for repairs that meet their own specifications.

Councilman Mike Sesma said the city has a responsibility to keep up the building, which has fallen into disrepair over the past several years.

"If anyone else in the city had a building like this, we'd be on them to maintain it," he said. "We have a responsibility to maintain our own stuff, and we haven't been doing that."

But there are several complicating factors.

The Historic District Commission is in the process of deciding if the Kentlands Mansion, Arts Barn and Firehouse should be designated as a historic resource.

A historic designation would guide the type of work and materials used in any repairs and development done to the building, and would likely make it more expensive.

The city has tried for several years to find a buyer for the Firehouse, but so far it has been unable to close a deal. With the slow economy, officials agreed, a buyer was unlikely to come forward anytime soon.

The main structure of the Firehouse was built around 1950 by Otis Beall Kent to house his collection of antique fire trucks. It never served as a working fire station.

An addition was built sometime after the main structure, which has a rusting roof, dirt floor and other serious issues, Tomasello said.

Storm water drains poorly from the site, and much of it pools against a neighboring home's foundation. Finding a solution to the storm water runoff problem is a high priority, Tomasello said.

"Right now it's a very challenging site," City Public Works director Jim Arnault added.

Three options were offered to mitigate the runoff problem.

One, which would cost nearly $60,000, would change the gutter system and divert water to a storm drain on Hart Road.

The second option would divert runoff to a private drain on an adjacent property, provided the homeowner agrees, and would cost the city about $32,000.

The third option, which itself would cost around $55,000 and staff pushed hard for Monday, is to tear down the addition.

Overall, Tomasello estimated that stabilizing the building so it would be more appealing to potential buyers, could cost between $200,000 and $250,000.

Several members of the Kentlands community came out to offer their opinions, as well.

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