A community in Central Maine is getting its first look at a new station — but they may never know who paid the $2 million bill.
"It's not possible to convey our appreciation," said Hallowell City Manager Nate Rudy. "I wish there were more people in the world who were focused on giving back to the community without getting recognition back."
The fire department had been in serious trouble, operating out of a station that dated back to the Civil War. Because they could not afford to build a new station, Hallowell officials were considering consolidating services with neighboring Farmingdale, or contracting fire services out of Augusta.
"That would not have been good for us," said Hallowell Fire Chief Jim Owens. "We would have lost our identity. We take a lot of pride in our history, and we didn't want to lose that."
Clearly, someone else in the community didn't want to lose that, either. The chief got a phone call out of the blue, asking how much he thought a new station would cost. He guessed $1 million. The caller offered to write him a check.
"I couldn't believe it," said Owens. "I was just speechless when they offered that."
Rudy said he initially met the generous offer with some skepticism.
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"I said to the fire chief, 'Is this real?' We need to go find out," he said.
Quickly, they realized the offer was real. They began working with an architect on a $1 million design. They consulted the anonymous donor, who was reportedly not happy with the appearance of the building. They wanted to see a brick exterior, to match the surrounding Stevens Commons. It raised the price of the project, but the donor gave more.
Later, the donor asked if the fire department wanted anything additional for the building. City officials told the donor the chief had liked a set of red, bi-fold truck bay doors — but they were over budget. The donor said to get the chief whatever he wanted.
Ultimately, the mystery person donated about $2 million. The city of Hallowell pitched in $25,000 — a small price to pay to ensure the department's future.
"It saved our lives, really," said Owens. "It saved the department, and to some of these [firefighters], that is their life."