Although it is well-known that the two fire stations in Winthrop are fairly ancient, nonetheless it was a shock even to us to read in the Sun-Transcript two weeks ago that the central firehouse on Pauline Street dates back to 1889 and the station at Winthrop Beach on Shirley Street was built in 1904.
Although we have not done any research on the issue, we would be willing to bet that no other community in the state has a fire station as old as either of ours, let alone two of this age in the same community — and further, that such antique structures are their only two firehouses.
It goes without saying that structures such as these, which were built when firetrucks were drawn by horses, are wholly inadequate to house modern firetrucks and their accompanying equipment.
Winthrop has been living on borrowed time as regards to our two firehouses and the time to make an investment in this critical area of public safety is long overdue.
The Winthrop police station also is lacking in many respects. The present home of the Winthrop P.D. in Metcalfe Square is the former post office building, which was constructed in the early 1930s. Though the brick edifice is as solid a building as one can imagine and was given a total interior makeover in 1993 with MWRA mitigation funds (thanks primarily to the efforts of then-selectwoman, the late Marie Turner), it too, has outlived its usefulness as a hub for public safety in the 21st century.
(We’ll add a Jim Lederman-style quiz here about Winthrop history: Prior to being the site of the Post Office building, what occupied that location? See answer below.)
Combining fire and police services into one building has become the accepted norm in the realm of public safety these days. The City of Revere’s new station houses both the police department and a fire station and the Town of Scituate on the South Shore recently completed construction of a huge police and fire facility.
In our town, which is one of the smallest communities area-wise in the state, finding appropriate space for such a large project is the biggest challenge, with the anticipated cost of at least $20 million also representing a tremendous undertaking.
However, as was noted in the news article last week, a possible site could be the former Middle School on Pauline Street (Quiz question #2: What was on that site prior to it being the middle school?). As for the large cost of such a project, interest rates are still incredibly low for municipal borrowing, and given the uncertainty the country (and the world) faces with the political situation in Washington, D.C., such low rates may not be around for much longer.
All in all, the time has come to build a new fire station, preferably combined with a new police station. Finding the funding may be difficult, given that our town has has just completed a new middle-high school. However, the costs of such projects only will grow in the future and may become impossible should interest rates rise. This investment in our infrastructure has been put off for generations — so let’s get this done now.
(Answer to question #1: What is now our police station and formerly the U.S. Post Office was the site of the old Winthrop Town Hall. We would note that townspeople acknowledged the need to replace the old, wooden Town Hall for more than 30 years before they finally built our current Town Hall in 1929.)
(Answer to question #2: The former middle school was the site of the original Winthrop High School, which was completed in 1907.)