Housing Authority settles into historic new home

Jeremy Ratliff

A building which served as a second home for firefighters of the Merrill Fire Department for nearly an entire century, has now become the new, permanent home of the Merrill Area Housing Authority.
Following extensive renovations, the former “Station One” became the new home for MAHA offices and operations as of Monday, June 1, 2019,
Originally erected in 1916, the building had undergone several expansions and renovations over the years to accommodate the rapidly changing realm of fire service and growth of the Merrill Fire Department. The most recent change prior to it’s its closure in 2014, was the addition of six apparatus bays to house MFD’s vehicle and equipment fleet. The station closed in February of 2014, following the construction of the new fire station on Pier Street.
MAHA took possession of the building in June of 2015.
As MAHA Executive Director Paul Russell explains, relocation was originally planned for last May, but wasn’t immediately practical due to the start of renovations at the Park Place housing complex.
“It was nice to have more office space when we first relocated from Park Place, to the former First Weber building in July of 2016. As the agency began to grow, it became readily apparent we would need to start looking at long-term options for a more suitable, permanent location. We considered other location options around the city as well as starting from scratch and building new.
“After considering all of our options, in the fall of 2017 the housing authority board of commissioners decided on renovating the former fire station and make it our permanent home. Our original plan was to immediately begin renovations and be moved-in within a year or so. But with the start of the Stonebridge build and other projects we had lined up such as Park Place renovations, we realized that timeline just wasn’t feasible. Our staff coordinated continued renovations throughout last year and we set a goal to be completely moved in by the end of July. We ended up ahead of schedule which is great, and we couldn’t be happier to be all settled in.”
During the renovation process, maintaining as much of the building’s historical integrity was made a top priority, according to Russell.
“Since returning to Merrill after I retired from military service, I began to realize how special many of the city’s historic landmarks are and most of all, how important they are to the community. This building was one of them,” he explains, as he stands below what was once a “pole hole” for firefighters to slide down from their living quarters, when responding to emergencies. The portal remains intact, but has now been refurbished. The nearby winding staircase is another fire station remnant, which has also since been refurbished.

“This building served a tremendous service to the community for nearly 100 years as a former fire station. So many can relate to this building with memories and experiences. When deciding to make this the new home for the housing authority, we wanted not only wanted to make the building active in the community again but to preserve as many aspects of the original fire station as possible.”
MAHA’s new permanent home not only provides more space (approx. 3,000 square feet) than their previous location at 101 E. First Street (approx. 1,000 square feet) but also bears plenty of room for expansion as the agency continues to grow. The entire second floor of the building is currently being used for storage, but can be easily converted into additional office space as needed. The first floor common area consists of a reception desk and visitor lobby at the main entrance, two conference rooms, an employee breakroom with lounge and kitchenette and as well three spacious offices. The bays once used to house fire department equipment and apparatus are now being utilized to house MAHA maintenance vehicles and equipment.

In early August, MAHA hosted the monthly MFD retiree breakfast at their new location. Many former MFD members took the opportunity to tour the building and take themselves back to the days when they called the building their own second-home.
“We are very thankful to the housing authority, specifically Paul Russell, for preserving this building,” said former MFD Assistant Chief and 19-year department veteran Mike Weckwerth.
“It really brought back memories. It was great to come in and see so much of the old station still intact. It means a lot to us that this building was saved and didn’t become a pile of bricks and dust.”
The Merrill Area Housing Authority can be reached at (715) 722-1081 during regular business hours of 7:00 a.m.- 3:30 p.m. Monday-Thursday and 7:00 a.m.-11:00 a.m. on Fridays.

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