THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Malden to close rundown firehouse

Personnel to share space with Revere

By Matt Byrne
Globe Correspondent / April 21, 2011

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MALDEN — Citing uninhabitable conditions after years of mold, rot, and neglect, Malden Fire Chief Michael J. Murphy announced yesterday that the Maplewood Fire Station is closing after decades of discussion of the decaying structure’s future.

“Rather than subject the firefighters to the existing conditions, we’d rather move them to a better facility,’’ said Murphy.

Firefighters assigned to Engine 2 will now report to a station they once shared with the city of Revere on Overlook Ridge Drive that straddles the eastern city line. Last August, Malden’s bay at that station was closed after a deadlocked union dispute over health insurance led to the layoff of 10 fire personnel.

The decision to close Maplewood came Tuesday after city councilors and other officials examined the decay during a walk-through, where they saw the results of a leaky roof that by all accounts had gone without major replacement since it was installed in 1908.

Joined by officials from the Board of Health and the Inspectional Services Department, the councilors saw the conditions that have plagued the firefighters, including their sleeping quarters.

“We went there to really find out if we could make the conditions better,’’ Councilor Paul A. Condon, Public Property Committee chairman, said after the top-to-bottom tour. ‘But when we got in there, in order to make that building reasonable for people to work in, we’d have to gut most of [it].’’

The closing comes a week after the Fire Department’s commanders took the rare step of publicly criticizing their accommodations at the Laurel Street location. The city has leased that site from the adjacent Mystic Valley Regional Charter School since 2003, after a deal was struck to sell the station and a vacant public school to the charter school for $2.4 million.

“The plans [for a new station] have been on and off for 60 years,’’ Murphy said last week.

The city currently pays $4,000 a month to lease the building. Martin Gately, a spokesman for the school, said tenants are responsible for upkeep of the building according to the terms of the lease, which expires June 1.

Tuesday’s tour renewed a sense of urgency for the councilors, who were joined by Christopher Webb, the city’s health director. For more than 30 minutes, they poked and prodded at the mold-damaged rooms, leaky crevices, and structural deficiencies of the red brick station, the city’s oldest fire facility.

A 2006 assessment of the building’s air quality by the state Department of Public Health showed that poor ventilation and outdated design have contributed to the building’s condition. New attention was focused on the health impacts to personnel who staff the building 24 hours a day when a recent test of mold samples taken from a shuttered second-floor bathroom, by an independent Florida-based laboratory, showed the presence of common fungal growths. But more troubling strains were found that can contribute to chronic respiratory health problems, the report said.

“If you can’t keep your employees safe, and they’re health-insured, they shouldn’t be in the building,’’ said Webb, who pointed to the lack of state and federal guidelines for safety upkeep at public properties.

After the tour, Condon said it became apparent how costly even a temporary fix would be.

“It just didn’t make sense to think about putting a million and a half dollars into a building like that, particularly when we really don’t own the building, and you’ve got a station not in use,’’ Condon said. “But you have to leave those kind of decisions to the professionals.’’

Matt Byrne can be reached at mbyrne.globe@gmail.com.