Town, school garage question goes to voters again

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WINDHAM — Town and RSU 14 officials hope that the third time will be the charm for a proposed new shared vehicle maintenance facility that will be on the ballot in Windham this November.

After failed referenda for similar projects in 1999 and 2015, Windham voters will now be asked if they want to approve the bond for a facility with a new $9.3 million price tag.

Town Manager Tony Plante said that though the plan is for the facility to be shared between the town and school district, the bond will be in the town’s name so the referendum will only be put to Windham voters. The town and district have been working on an inter-municipal agreement where RSU 14 would potentially pay about 25 percent of the facility’s cost through a lease-like structure, Plante said.

Town and school officials held a press conference outside the existing facility at 185 Windham Center Road on Tuesday, Sept. 12, to make their case for the proposal.

“This current facility that we’re standing in front of was built 1980 and was updated two times over the course of the next four years,” said Windham Public Works Director Doug Fortier. “We have long since outgrown its limited space, and it’s now affecting our ability to efficiently and effectively and safely service the citizens of Windham.”

The proposed 30,000-square-foot facility would be located on the same property as the current facility. It would be about triple the size of the less than 10,000-square-foot existing facility, providing more room to keep vehicles and equipment inside out of the elements, store tools and parts, and offer additional locker room and administrative space.

An aspect that was emphasized repeatedly Tuesday was the addition of a drive-thru wash bay that would allow town vehicles and equipment and school buses to be washed on a regular basis.

Stormwater regulations now prevent vehicles from being washed on site. Vehicles and equipment instead must be taken to a fire house or to garages in other towns, so they aren’t washed as often they should be, which can lead to corrosion from salt and a decrease in their lifespan, officials said.

Town Councilor Dave Nadeau is a part of a Shared Vehicle Maintenance Facility Joint Project Team that has studied the building needs and worked on the proposal.

“Our public works employees and school system are struggling to efficiently operate within the constraints of an old, hazardous facility. We have a unique opportunity right now to come together and fix it,” Nadeau said. “Our No. 1 goal is to keep our communities safe, and an updated, shared vehicle maintenance facility will help us effectively achieve that.”

A new facility could save as much as $8 million over its expected 50-year lifespan by reducing expenses, such as not having to purchase new vehicles as often,  and increasing efficiency, the town says. That savings estimate is based on a 2015 report from the Western Transportation Institute at Montana State University.

“Investing in a new, shared vehicle maintenance space for our school buses will not only save taxpayers’ money in the long run, but it will also help increase safety for our employees right away. It truly is a win-win,” said Scott McLean, an RSU 14 School Board member who is also on the joint project team.

Kevin Kimball, the town highway maintenance supervisor, said being able to keep more vehicles indoors could increase response time during winter storms.

“The storage of the trucks inside before a storm is critical to response. Right now, they’re stored outside, and we have to warm them up and it reduces our response time by an hour and a half,” Kimball said. “If we have them stored inside fully loaded, we come in and we roll immediately.

“That improves safety for the general public. It saves costs, because it’s 10 times less cost to fight it from the bottom up than from the top down,” Kimball continued. “And we want to reduce costs, use less materials, and provide a safer road, quicker.”

The cost of the proposed facility has increased over time. When voters turned it down in 1999, the proposed bond was less than $4 million. In 2015, it had increased to more than $7.6 million. The 2015 vote failed by a 113 votes.

When voters head to the polls on Nov. 7, they will be looking at a $9.3 million price tag.

Bill Faucher, the project lead for Allied Engineering, said the increase is due to inflation in construction costs.

Town Councilor Jarrod Maxfield sees that as another reason to act now.

“Voting no doesn’t protect the taxpayer. We voted no two years ago, and now it’s almost $2 million more,” Maxfield said after the press conference. “One way or another, we either need to rehab this building or build a new one. The alternatives are not a better deal.”

The town is hoping to raise awareness about the proposal by posting information about it on the town website, and will also host several “open house” events where community members can tour the existing facility. Those events will be held Sept. 23 and Oct. 28 from 9 a.m. to noon and on Oct. 7 from 10 a.m. to noon.

“All we can do is put the information out there, give people the opportunity to see it with their own eyes, and come to their own conclusions,” said Town Manager Tony Plante.

Matt Junker can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or mjunker@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @MattJunker.

Sam Pelletier, left, and Dave Poree, both of Casco, work as part of the Windham Public Works team in a building that town officials say needs to be replaced.

Windham Public Works Director Doug Fortier makes his case for a new shared maintenance facility with RSU 14 at a press conference Sept. 12.

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