Editorial: Our municipal workers save towns money

  • Holton Street in Northfield was the site of an extensive culvert replacement project that Highway Department workers completed at significant cost savings to the town. Staff photo

Published: 12/12/2019 11:03:48 AM
Modified: 12/12/2019 11:03:38 AM

Do we get our money’s worth our of our multi-talented highway department and DPW employees? You bet we do!

Those workers have the hands-on skills and can-do attitudes that would leave big city departments shaking their heads in disbelief. They take on construction and fix-it projects, or portions thereof, that save towns money and what’s more, their accomplishments usually go unsung.

Take the recent example of Northfield’s Holton Street culvert replacement: Highway Superintendent Tom Walker estimated the extensive project of rebuilding a century-old culvert at roughly $350,000 to $400,000. Yet by doing the work in-house, with the Highway Department using its own equipment, knowledge and experienced employees, Walker estimates savings of nearly $200,000, significantly under the original estimate.

To access the culvert, the Highway Department had to dig 33 feet into the ground. The department also had to move soil from digging off site because it is a wetlands area. The culvert itself is 12 feet wide, 10 feet tall and 86 feet long, Walker said. The culvert replacement was required because the pre-existing culvert, which Walker estimated was roughly 100 years old, was beginning to cave in from old age.

“A job that size, most highway departments would bid out,” Walker said.

Walker, who has been highway superintendent for 18 years, thanked the department’s four employees for completing the Holton Street project on top of their everyday responsibilities. He said this was the first time many of them conducted a project of this scale from start to finish.

That same willingness to help was displayed last summer in a project to install new playground equipment at Northfield Elementary School. The old playground structures were removed and recycled by the Northfield Highway Department, which also helped to excavate the area to prepare for the new structures – a significant contribution to the project.

In Warwick, the volunteer Fire Department has been using its own manpower of 12 members to build an addition onto the town’s fire station. Fire Chief Ron Gates said the department has built walls for the structure and installed trusses and beams to create the framework. Once the weather warms up again, work will begin on the remainder of the project. Gates said money for construction was raised by the Warwick Firemen’s Association, a separate entity from the Warwick Fire Department.

“We started putting away for construction on the building nearly 15 years ago,” he said. To date, Gates said the project has cost approximately $115,000. Town Coordinator David Young said Warwick may be able to use funding obtained through Green Communities grants to construct the addition, as well as for other required work in town.

In Greenfield, the DPW has been crucial in projects like replacing the Rocky Mountain water tank in 2018, which ended up costing about $400,000 less than originally thought.

Recently, the DPW replaced sidewalk bricks and five fire hydrants on Main Street, thanks to a $57,000 Community Development Block Grant.

The bricks were replaced with concrete, which is made with polymers and fibers that will make it more durable, said Department of Public Works Director Marlo Warner. DPW employee Mike Duclos said workers stamped he wet concrete with a brick pattern, so the appearance will be similar.

Our highway department and DPW workers are an invaluable resource to our towns. Yankee ingenuity, jack of all trades backgrounds, a willingness to get their hands dirty and, literally, do the heavy lifting, plus a can-do spirit contribute to keeping costs low for towns.

As Walker put it, “We have the ability to do these projects and help the town of Northfield in a big, positive way.” And that goes for the rest of our towns, too.




Greenfield Recorder

14 Hope Street
Greenfield, MA 01302-1367
Phone: (413) 772-0261
Fax: (413) 772-2906

 

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