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HANFORD — Several people stood inside Hanford City Council chambers on Tuesday holding paintings of the old fire station, while others held signs that read “This place matters” over pictures of the station building.

During the Dec. 19, 2017, meeting, council voted in a 3-2 split decision to demolish the site for future expansion of recreational facilities. The old fire station, located at 404 W. Lacey Blvd., sits adjacent to the city pool, the Plunge.

The fate of the fire station was not on the council's agenda, but that didn't stop over 13 people from making public comments about the building at the council meeting on Tuesday, taking nearly one hour in meeting time.

Most who spoke implored the council to halt the demolition of the old fire station to reconsider options for saving it.

Diana Leoni, one of the Plein Aire Painters who has been out at the old fire station for the last three weeks creating paintings of the building, spoke to council during the public comment section of the council meeting.

Leoni said she was born and raised in Hanford and has seen many changes happen to the city. She said a parking lot may be nice, but it serves only one purpose and is nothing compared to a “beautiful” and “gorgeous” building.

“Hanford’s dying on the vine,” Leoni told the crowd. “We have a jewel here, people. We have an absolute jewel.”

Leoni told the Council that she knows it will take a lot of money, but asked that they at least try to preserve the building and repurpose it.

The old fire station was built in 1939 and after two other fire stations were built in the city, the building was deemed to be uninhabitable for any public safety purpose in 1989. Since that time it has been used as storage space for some city departments.

Steve Banister, board president of Main Street Hanford, said civic leaders have “lacked a creative vision” in terms of repurposing historic buildings. He asked council to study the building like the painters did until they see the building as a downtown treasure and not an eyesore.

“The old fire house is stately and majestic, which is a far cry from ugly and offensive,” Banister said.

Michelle Brown, executive director of Main Street Hanford, told the council about a community meeting the organization held in January to discuss Direct Public Offerings as a way to raise funds to restore downtown buildings.

Brown said the organization and its board received a lot of interest at the meeting and are now “seriously considering” moving forward with establishing a subsidiary and creating a Direct Public Offering.

Even former Councilman Francisco Ramirez got up to speak during public comment time. Ramirez, who voted in favor of demolishing the building at the December council meeting, told the council that they should at least give the citizens a couple weeks to come up with a solution.

In a rare move, newly elected Councilwoman Diane Sharp stepped-off the dais and spoke as a member of the public.

On Tuesday, Sharp put up a post on her Facebook page where she proposed not demolishing the building and instead suggested making modifications to “expand its mission and maintain its current use.”

She reiterated her thoughts to the Council Tuesday night.

Some of the modifications Sharp proposed included reinstalling exterior lighting fixtures and interior electricity, sprucing up the current garden, installing automatic irrigation and reinstalling original lettering and address numbers to the buildings frontage.

In her opinion, because the building is “structurally sound with an adequate roof,” she also suggested using the building as a type of warehouse storage in the meantime.

A part of Sharp’s Facebook post reads: “I believe minor enhancements can turn the old Firehouse back into the gem it is and continue to delight residents and visitors until the City, with public input, determines it has a better use for the building or land on which it sits.”

Vice Mayor Sue Sorensen said she believes there is, or at least should be, a limit to how many buildings the city can own and maintain. She said the old fire station is not on any historic registry and has essentially been vacant for almost 30 years.

Sorensen said over the years the city has brought in several consultants to see if the building could be repurposed, but the cost has always been an issue. According to an engineer’s estimate, it would take about $2 million to be able to reoccupy the space due to lead-based paint, asbestos and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) issues.

She said the city needs to be responsible with taxpayer money and added she was sad that it took this long for the community to come to the building’s aid.

Because Sharp decided to speak as a member of the public, she left the room when the rest of Council discussed possibly halting the demolition process, per advice from City Attorney Ty Mizote.

Mayor David Ayers then asked Sorenson and Councilman Martin Devine — Councilman Justin Mendes left the meeting early — if they wanted to halt the demolition, to which they said no; so the general consensus was to go on with the demolition as planned.

Right now, the company contracted to demolish the old fire station is completing interior asbestos removal and will continue to the demolition stage after clearing the interior.

News Reporter

News reporter for The Sentinel

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