My Turn: A new building for Montague’s Dept. of Public Works is overdue

  • The Montague Public Works building on Avenue A Extension in Turners Falls. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Fellow Montague residents, I am writing as a member of the Montague Department of Public Works Facility Planning Committee to ask for your support for the proposed new Department of Public Works Facility. This committee has been working together for over two years to identify the right site for a new building and to design a building that will meet the current and future needs of our DPW, all while keeping the cost at a level that we feel our residents can reasonably afford.

Our committee first looked at the possibility of renovating the current site, but due to the size, space, and present building conditions, this option does not make sense fiscally or practically.

We have looked at designs of multiple building styles on two other sites, and we are now ready to present to you what we consider to be our best proposal. Our DPW’s current building at 500 Avenue A is almost 70 years old. The building is inefficient, too small, and is not up to modern building codes in a number of critical areas.

The present facility creates a high safety risk to the employees who work there, and this in turn a high risk to our town as a whole. Imagine the cost to us as taxpayers if a federal or state inspector were to order our building to be shut down? This is a real risk we are facing and one that we can’t ignore any longer.

Our DPW employees who serve our town deserve not only a better and more efficient space, but most importantly a safer space to work in. We would invite you to visit our current DPW facility during normal business hours and decide if this is a building that you’d be willing to work in.

The building design we are proposing is 25,500 square feet in size. This is a substantial reduction from the initial design offered to us by the engineer. The new building will allow for more interior storage of the valuable DPW vehicles and equipment, while also creating additional covered parking for vehicles that can be stored outside. There will also be space on the property for a salt shed, fuel depot, and other equipment storage that currently has to be housed at multiple other locations in town.

The new building will cost less per square foot to heat, be more energy efficient, and allow for roof-mounted solar panels.

After many meetings and debates, we feel that we have a design that balances the needs of a DPW for a town our size while being mindful of and respecting the fact that there are future important building projects that need to happen in town as well. The total estimated cost for the site development and construction of the building is $11.5million. Yes, that is a lot of money, and more than we had hoped it would be. However, we must ask ourselves, “What is the cost of doing nothing?” Or, kicking the can down the road, yet again, for someone else to deal with? Construction costs are escalating by an estimated 6 percent per year. If we continue to delay this project, we will get less of a building for more money. Plain and simple.

Our committee has also researched that cost in comparison to other towns and facilities of a similar size to ours, and that is in the normal range. This is a big investment, but it is an investment in a department that provides critical safety services for all citizens in town. This new building will meet the current and future needs of our DPW. It will operate far more efficiently than the current building and it will bring all the DPW operations together onto one site. The best site we have identified for this building is on the parcel on Turners Falls Road, just south of the Public Safety Complex. The DPW would take 5 acres of a 22-acre site, and the remaining land would be available for future town use. We believe this site has a minimal impact on the residences nearby.

No private and taxable properties will need to be taken off the tax rolls, and the present site at 500 Avenue A will be available for sale for private redevelopment.

The DPW Committee is hosting the last of three public informational sessions on Feb. 13 from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at the Public Safety Complex.

Mark Williams is a member of the Montague DPW Facility Planning Committee.