Saturday, November 29, 2003

City to buy site of '99 fire

New station planned for property

By Bronislaus B. Kush

WORCESTER- The city has reached an agreement to buy the Franklin Street site where six Worcester firefighters perished in 1999 while battling a fire at the Worcester Cold Storage and Warehouse Co. building.

Under the terms of the deal, the city would take the property by eminent domain and pay Framingham developer Ding On "Tony" Kwan $900,000, with the goal of building a fire station on the one-acre site to replace the aging fire facility at Brown Square.

"This is a proper and fitting way to preserve a property consecrated by this tragedy," City Manager Thomas R. Hoover said in a memo sent to city councilors.

The agreement needs the approval of the City Council, which will be briefed on the plan Tuesday.

The deal was struck as the anniversary nears of the Dec. 3, 1999, blaze that took the lives of fire Lts. Timothy P. Jackson, Thomas E. Spencer and James F. Lyons III, and Firefighters Paul A. Brotherton, Jeremiah M. Lucey and Joseph T. McGuirk.

There had been some thought to erecting a memorial on the parcel but city officials - prodded by some of the families of the lost firefighters - have elected to build the monument near fire headquarters on Grove Street.

"With the fourth anniversary of the tragedy coming up, I'm happy that we were able to reach an agreement on the Franklin Street property," Mr. Hoover told the Telegram & Gazette.

Officials said the city would use the $1 million proceeds from the sale of the Central Street firehouse - where a hotel will be built - to pay Mr. Kwan.

Mr. Hoover said he will seek council approval for loans to finance site studies and preparation, as well as the actual construction of the building.

He said an environmental assessment will be made before papers are exchanged.

Given some previous cleanups, city officials don't expect to find any major contamination on the parcel.

The city would also be responsible for the demolition of the portion of the Worcester Cold Storage building that was not damaged in the 1999 fire.

Upon completion of the new station, the two fire companies now at Brown Square will be moved, as well as administrative and fire prevention offices now located at fire headquarters.

The department's training division, meanwhile, will use the freed-up space on Grove Street.

Mr. Hoover said the new station would probably include three bays, so a ladder company or the Rescue Squad, now on McKeon Road, could be moved there.

"But that's a decision for Chief (Gerard A. Dio," Mr. Hoover said.

There's no firm timeline but city officials hope to begin construction before the end of next year. A price tag for the entire project has yet to be determined.

The new fire station will actually be built on a 43,750-square-foot plot.

Mr. Kwan, who could not be reached for comment, would keep about 21,804 square feet to the rear of the property and the right to erect and maintain a billboard that would be visible to nearby Interstate 290. Similar signage was destroyed in the fire.