HANFORD — At the Hanford City Council meeting on Tuesday, members discussed the fate of the old fire station, which has sat vacant for many years.

After some debate, Council voted in a 3-2 split decision to demolish the site for future expansion of recreational facilities. The old fire station sits adjacent to the city pool, the Plunge, on the corner of Lacey Boulevard and Kaweah Street.

Hanford City Manager Darrel Pyle told council that after Fire Stations #1 and #2 were built, the old fire station building was deemed to be uninhabitable for any public safety purpose.

“Since that time it has become a pigeon habitat and kind of that backroom closet where departments tend to store junk that probably should be disposed of,” Pyle said.

He said with lead-based paint, asbestos and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) issues, it would take about $2 million to be able to reoccupy the space, according to an engineer’s estimate.

Pyle said if the site were to be demolished, it could be used for additional recreational purposes by way of expanding the parking lot next to the Plunge. He said demolition of the building would also provide the police department better visual access to patrol activities at the skate park.

During the public comment section of the meeting, Steve Banister, president of the Main Street Hanford board, offered Main Street to look into a program known as direct public offering. He said that type of program allows a community to participate in construction and revitalization projects.

Banister said communities across the nation have used direct public offering programs to raise money by means of “crowd investing.” He said Main Street wanted a chance to determine whether a program like this could be used to refurbish the old fire station and repurpose it as an “exciting downtown attraction.”

Banister said the organization’s board was willing to set up a meeting with a team of experts from Oakland who had worked with Guerilla Development in Portland and had success creating profitable businesses by raising funds via crowd investing.

Banister said Main Street would also meet with Craig Scharton from Fresno, who started a crowd investing program. He said Scharton was willing to share his experience and knowledge to help Main Street avoid any pitfalls. Scharton is the former director of Main Street Hanford.

Councilman Justin Mendes said in regards to Main Street’s proposal, he thinks the focus for any type of crowd investing should be one of the other city-owned buildings, like the Bastille or the Old Courthouse, which need major renovations.

“Why does the fire house — which has already been slated to be demolished — need to be the canary for this project, when it should be the Bastille, which is something that the majority of our citizens want to save,” Mendes asked.

Vice Mayor Sue Sorensen agreed with Mendes, saying the other buildings are desperately in need of work and believes they should be the primary focus, whereas the old fire station could be let go of and the area repurposed.

“I’m a little bit concerned that we put our focus on a property that maybe doesn’t have the high value usage that we need in our community,” Sorensen said.

Sorensen said she was in favor of expanding the parking lot for the Plunge and possibly adding a play area with shade and picnic tables.

“To simply tear down a historic building for a parking lot just doesn’t seem right,” Banister said. “We’ve saved it for this long.”

Banister said all Main Street was asking for was 90 or fewer days just to see if crowd investing is a viable option.

Mayor David Ayers said he was open to the idea of giving Main Street the time it needed to meet with the experts, but if it didn’t work out, then the city could move on with the demolition. He also echoed Mendes’ comment about getting the experts to see if crowd investing could be an option for the Bastille or Old Courthouse.

“I think [the old fire station] is just way past it’s time and I’d rather see that energy go into something else,” Ayers said. “But, I want to give you that time because it may also give us the time to show the public what we’re going to do with that space.”

Mendes said not making a decision as soon as possible was a waste of time and money, and suggested just asking Main Street to pursue looking into a direct public offering for the Bastille.

Councilman Francisco Ramirez agreed, saying he believed saving the recently-condemned Veteran’s Building and Bastille are more important than saving the old fire station.

“I think if we keep on prolonging this, we’re inhibiting progress on the development that we really want to get done,” Ramirez said, adding expanding the recreational facility has been a goal of the city for a long time.

Mendes eventually moved to go forward with the demolition of the fire house, which was seconded by Ramirez. Councilman Martin Devine gave the motion the third vote it needed to pass against Ayers’ and Sorensen’s “no” votes.

The reporter can be reached at 583-2423 or jzavala@hanfordsentinel.com