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Downtown building goes back to its roots


The old Sykesville Volunteer Fire Company station on the town's Main Street soon will become the new regional office of the state fire marshal.

The fire marshal will move March 2 to a space that is part of town history. The building was the town's first official firehouse, and no one plans to erase the words "Sykesville Vol. Fire Co." chiseled into the stone above the entrance.

Since firefighters left the two-story Formstone building nearly 20 years ago, it has had reincarnations as offices, a warehouse and antiques shops. None is as appropriate as the newest tenant, said Mayor Jonathan S. Herman.

"What an appropriate location for the fire marshal and what a wonderful reuse of that building," Herman said. "This is a real boost for our Main Street and great news for our merchants and restaurants."

The state has signed a five-year lease for the nearly 2,200-square- foot space at a cost of $30,924 annually.

The regional fire marshal's office, in Westminster since 1995, serves Carroll, Frederick and Howard counties, and it needed a more central location. Its staff of 10 investigates suspicious fires, bombings and associated criminal activity. The staff periodically inspects about 300 health care and 4,000 day care facilities.

"Westminster is not a bad location, but it is at the far northern extreme of the region," said Ted Meminger, deputy chief state fire marshal. "Our people are on the road a lot, and we need something more central."

Sykesville, a town of 3,500, straddles the Carroll-Howard border and is an easy drive from Frederick.

Town Councilwoman Jeannie M. Nichols said she had noticed workers in the building and was pleased to learn of the new tenant.

"This is really great," Nichols said. "We want a more diverse presence on Main Street, and we have been working for a mix of businesses that will encourage people to come downtown."

The state Department of General Services found the building and made the lease arrangements with owner Bruce Greenberg.

"We had to be in a downtown area in keeping with Smart Growth," said Meminger, referring to Gov. Parris N. Glendening's initiative to direct growth to existing communities.

Until 1983, volunteers raced from the building to answer calls and even battled a fire within their own walls in 1969. The company now has much larger headquarters on Route 32 at Freedom Avenue.

Greenberg bought the building in 1984 and eventually replaced the large overhead door with a storefront, but he kept the Formstone facade intact.

"It is fascinating that this building is returning to part of its initial function," said Greenberg, who is adapting the space into offices for the fire marshal and installing new heating and air-conditioning.

Meminger had high praise for the original builders and designers. "This building is in great shape, is comfortable and efficient, and there's the element of nostalgia," he said.

"The company designed a building that served multiple needs," Greenberg said. "It had sleeping quarters, a shower, its own water and a powerful siren."

The siren was so loud that nothing else could be heard while it blared, Greenberg said. The siren was in service for several more years at the Route 32 station.

Personal pagers have replaced it, but it worked the last time it was tested, volunteers said.

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