WESTBROOK – In Westbrook’s Public Services facility on Saco Street, a thin layer of dust lines the desks of the administrative offices and the windowsills in the employee lounge, but it isn’t due to a lack of cleanliness or organization.
“It’s just not tight, so things get in here,” said Arty Ledoux, referring to the office, built in makeshift fashion inside a repair bay in the maintenance garage and held together by a thin wall.
Lynn Leavitt, Westbrook’s sustainability coordinator for wastewater and recycling, has her office situated directly next to a garage bay, and it, too, is only separated by a thin wall.
“It can get really loud in here, because they’re using very loud machinery right on the other side of that wall,” she said Tuesday.
Now, a proposal to spend $8.7 million for a new facility, which would consolidate maintenance for the city’s entire fleet of public vehicles, including school transportation, public safety and public works, is being studied by the City Council.
Owens McCullough, the vice president of engineering at Sebago Technics, the civil engineering firm charged with developing the plans, presented details of the project to the city’s Facilities and Streets committee in February, which sent the plan to the City Council. On Monday, April 28, the City Council will give a second reading on the proposed project, and if approved, it will move to referendum on the June 10 ballot.
The updated facility would consolidate municipal and school building maintenance, wastewater division maintenance, and public safety vehicle maintenance, which have separate buildings on Cumberland Mills and Mechanic Street.
New facility components will include a 22,050-square-foot fleet maintenance and administration building, a 14,000-square-foot sand and salt storage building, and a 1,900-square-foot school bus administration office.
For the 28 employees stationed at the public services facility, which was built in 1969, a new facility couldn’t come sooner, though none will necessarily admit that they need it.
“We’ve done the best we possibly could with what we have,” Ledoux said. “We are a safety-award-winning department.”
Ledoux said Tuesday that a committee has worked the overhaul plans since 2011. There have been some 14 concept designs, taking into account programming and site analysis. He said many considerations were made for layout and sensitivity to the surrounding neighborhood.
Ledoux added that some original designs called for a price tag of $17 million, but that the end goal was to “get something down to be more affordable, but that still accomplished our needs.”
City Administrator Jerre Bryant said Wednesday that the planning process has been lengthy due to multiple visits to other municipal sites to “really get a feel for what was out there” and “whittle it down” to what was needed. He said that when originally priced out, sometime in 2012, it was too expensive.
“We simply said OK, we need to go back and boil it down to the absolute essential needs of this,” he said. “But the existing facility really is not adequate.”
Bryant said his target was no more than $8 million.
“It’s a lot of money, but it’s still a relatively modest approach to the work,” he said.
The entire existing maintenance garage, which also houses lockers and a lounge for public works employees, a makeshift welding area, and various scattered storage space, will become a “cold storage” facility kept at roughly 50 degrees.
The existing site includes a school transportation maintenance garage, public services facility, administrative offices, a fueling station and sand and salt storage.
In February, McCullough described the building as “outdated,” and said getting “everything under one roof” will increase efficiency, as well as save the city money through shared equipment.
McCullough said that while the building is aged, be believes there may be $10 million worth of equipment housed at the facility.
Sebago Technics, which was responsible for the streetscape design of William Clarke Drive, also built a 21,000-square-foot public services facility in Yarmouth.
Ledoux said that when he was hired, the entire facility had one shared bathroom for about 25 people. Upstairs, above the makeshift offices, is storage, where within just a few feet, are filters for equipment, large unused traffic lights, and Christmas decorations.
“This is the epitome of what we’re up against,” he said. “The building has just outlived its purpose and the needs of the department have outgrown it.”
Ledoux said prior to some general upgrades in the early 2000s, employees could be eating lunch while other workers were welding or grinding just a few feet away. Occupational Safety and Health Administration guidelines now require shields that separate fabrication areas.
The new facility will also feature a separate, 1,900-square-foot bus administration office, which will replace the current school bus maintenance facility and adjoining offices. Bus maintenance personnel are perhaps the most cramped at the site, working with a repair bay that can barely fit a full-size school bus, and with no proper lift.
While the majority of city councilors have expressed support for the project, citing the cost had been nearly cut in half from an earlier proposal, concerns remain for the cost to the taxpayers, who will vote whether to approve the project.
“How’s this going to affect our tax rate?” said Councilor Mike Sanphy in February. “I just want to make sure we can afford this.”
Bryant said the city would bond the funds through a 20-year period.
Bryant has said that with the wastewater division maintenance and public safety vehicle maintenance part of the consolidation, their respective buildings in Cumberland Mills and on Mechanic Street would no longer be needed.
According to Bryant, if the Cumberland Mills building is no longer under municipal use, the land would revert back to Sappi Fine Paper, which donated it to the city. The Mechanic Street property, Bryant said, which is city owned, could be put up for sale.
Arty Ledoux, the deputy director of Westbrook Public Services, goes over the concept plan Tuesday for a proposed $8.7 million consolidated public services facility that likely will be on the ballot in June.