PROVINCETOWN — The VFW building at 3 Jerome Smith Road was built entirely by veterans, says VFW post member Paul Mendes — volunteers who donated their skills as carpenters or electricians to help construct a post building that was a social center of town for generations.
“It’s a very strong building — it can hold a hundred people on the dance floor,” Mendes told the Independent. His hope that the building could be repurposed and renovated into a police station is shared by many of his fellow post members, he said.
But town staff and the building committee that was appointed specifically to design and develop a new police station never thought that idea was financially realistic. None of the formal studies for a police station ever involved renovating the VFW hall itself.
The town plans to demolish the building this spring. Dept. of Public Works Director Rich Waldo said the building would need to be taken down under any plan for municipal use of the site.
“First of all, I want to be clear that anything is possible — it’s just a matter of expense,” said Waldo. “I can say that no plan has ever crossed my desk for renovating that building, and I can give you a long list of reasons why. Municipal buildings are governed by a bunch of codes that didn’t exist in the 1950s when that building was built. From handicap access and elevators to fire codes and energy codes, starting from scratch is just easier, especially for the contracting builder, than trying to rework everything.
“You’re not going to save any money by renovating, and you’re just going to make the construction more complicated,” Waldo added.
“I can also say those building codes apply for any municipal use,” he continued. “Whether it’s going to be police or housing or something else, you want to demolish it and have a clean canvas for any project that’s gonna move forward.”
Building committee member Paul Kelly and former building committee vice chair Rick Murray confirmed that when their committee was studying the VFW parcel for a police station, renovating the old building was not part of the plan.
“The building really isn’t where you’d want it,” said Kelly. “When we were working on a station there we had it off to the side, running along the east edge of the parcel, to open up circulation and parking areas.”
“It’s too expensive to put the station inside the VFW building,” said Murray. The building committee did consider and present the VFW site as an option, but it was for new construction, not a renovation, Murray added.
The VFW building contains 6,226 square feet, according to town records. The current police station at 26 Shank Painter Road has 5,976 square feet. Designs for a new police station have ranged from 12,000 to 14,000 square feet.
A vote to demolish the building took place at the April 2019 town meeting; article 13J allocated $90,000 for the demolition. Article 13 was a 10-part capital improvement plan, however, and item 13J was just one part of it. Other parts of article 13 were the subject of more debate; no one spoke for or against 13J specifically.
Four and a half years before that, demolishing the VFW was on the October 2014 town meeting warrant. The VFW property had been purchased only a year earlier, and five town meeting voters spoke against its demolition without a clear plan for the site. No voters spoke for it, and the article did not pass.
Now there is a plan for the property — for about 50 units of affordable housing — and that project will be going out to bid in the spring. Another town meeting vote will be required to approve the winning bid for the housing development and allow construction to begin. Since the April 2019 vote has already authorized the demolition of the VFW hall, the only remaining vote on that subject will be when the select board votes on whether to approve the bid for the demolition work, probably sometime in March.
“It will take two months to do the procurement part and bring a contractor on for the demolition,” said acting Town Manager David Gardner. “Our intention is to have the demolition done by the spring.”