Two options proposed for public works HQ

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Residents turned out for an Aug. 2 public information session about the proposed plan for a a new public works garage in New Gloucester. 

NEW GLOUCESTER — “When it’s raining outside, it’s also raining inside.”

That’s what New Gloucester Town Manager Carrie Castonguay said she’s been told about the state of the town’s current public works garage at 1036 Lewiston Road.

Castonguay, who started as town manager about three months ago, joined with members of the town’s public works design committee to present a plan for a new public works facility with a price tag of more than $4 million during a recent information session.

“Currently, the design team is done, the finance part has been discussed, so what we’re looking for is any comments or questions from the citizens,” said Selectboard Chairwoman Linda Chase at the information session on Aug. 2 at the local AMVETS post.

A special town meeting has been scheduled for Sept. 18 to decide the fate of the garage proposal.

The design committee, made up of five community members, two Selectboard liaisons and two town staff members, was created in 2015 to guide the site planning and design for a replacement for the existing facility.

Castonguay outlined some of the issues with the current garage in a PowerPoint presentation, which noted leaks in the roof and walls causing water damage, cracked load-bearing walls, crumbling masonry, poor insulation, outdated mechanical systems, drainage issues and concerns about driveway safety.

The new facility, based on the committee plan, would be located at 611 Lewiston Road on the same property as the town fire station. The plan offers two options for the facility: a five-bay garage that would not fit all of the current public works vehicles and equipment, and a six-bay garage that would fit everything. The five-bay garage would cost $4.3 million while the six-bay would cost $4.6 million.

Castonguay also outlined some of the potential features that the new facility would have, including a vehicle lift for maintenance and inspections, higher ceilings, adequate exhaust and ventilation systems, improved electrical systems, a wash bay for vehicles and equipment, and improved storage.

Selectman Steven Libby, who serves as one of the Selectboard liaisons on the committee, gave an overview of how the fire station location was selected for the public works garage proposal.

“The committee went into this process pretty open-minded as far as where the facility could go,” Libby said, noting that the search started with nine properties and was initially whittled down to three: the fire station location, current public works garage location, and a town-owned property in the upper village area.

“Those three quickly rose to the top – the others had some major problems,” Libby said.

Architecture, engineering and planning firm Oak Point Associates of Biddeford conducted a site assessment for each of the three top sites, evaluating various factors such as traffic impact, public safety, space, centrality of location, groundwater and other natural resources impacts.

The fire station location received a “good” or “excellent” rating in each of the survey categories. The current garage location received mostly “satisfactory” grades in the Oak Point Associates survey, with a few “good” ratings.

Selectman Stephen Hathorne is not a member of the public works design committee, but attended the meeting to hear what the audience had to say. When asked to comment after the presentation, he said he agrees “100 percent” that the new facility is needed, but disagrees with the proposed location, citing traffic on Route 100 and impact on a local aquifer.

Hathorne said he thinks that public works vehicles will have trouble gaining speed when pulling out onto the road, and that “somebody’s going to get hurt.” He also said the 611 Lewiston Road property is near an aquifer and he worries that the area could be damaged by salt, gasoline, diesel and other substances from the garage.

Hathorne thinks the new facility should go “right where the existing garage stands.”

Questions from audience included whether or not a traffic assessment had been conducted for the new location, if there had been an environmental review and what the tax impact of the proposal would be.

In the Oak Point Associates survey, the 611 Lewiston Road site received “good” ratings for road access/traffic and impact on natural resources. It received an “excellent” rating specific to impact on groundwater.

The potential impact on local taxes will depend somewhat on whether or not the town approves the use of Municipal Tax Increment Financing for the project.

The town held a second informational session on Tuesday, Aug.  8. There will also be a hearing on Aug. 15 to discuss the possibility of using TIF funds to offset some of the costs.

Town Finance Director Lori-Anne Wilson said Aug. 2 that with TIF funds included over the course of a 20-year bond for the $4.6 million proposal, the average cost for taxpayers would be approximately 24 cents more for each $1,000 of a tax assessment. The owner of a home assessed at $200,000, for example, would see an increase of $48 in taxes.

A handout at the Aug. 8 meeting also outlined the potential financial impact if the town selected a $4.6 million bond with a life of 25 years (17 cents per $1,000 assessment) or 30 years (11 cents per $1,000 assessment). Castonguay noted that the overall interest on the would increase with a longer bond period.

The $4.3 million bond would have an impact of 20 cents, 13 cents, and 8 cents per $1,000 assessment respectively for 20-, 25-, and 30-year bonds.

The Selectboard voted 3-0 on Aug. 7 to set a special town meeting on Sept. 18 at the AMVETS post, where voters will ultimately decide the fate of the new garage proposal. Libby was absent for the vote, and Selectboard member Lenora Conger abstained from voting.

The special town meeting was originally planned for late August. Selectman Joe Davis said that “townspeople will get a better notification” with the extra month.

Castonguay says that the Selectboard still has to decide what the length and amount of the bond will be, and that the decision will be made during a special meeting after the Aug. 15 TIF hearing.

Voter approval would mark the culmination of a years-long effort, which according to a time line on the town website, dates at least back to 2005 when the town first bought the 611 Lewiston Road property for municipal purposes.

Tim Porter of Ganneston Construction, the Augusta-based company that has been working on the design plans and would build the facility, said if the project is approved by voters it is likely construction could begin next spring. Porter cited a state review of the project that could take up to six months.

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

Residents turned out for an Aug. 2 public information session about the proposed plan for a a new public works garage in New Gloucester.

Plans for the proposed new public works garage in New Gloucester.

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