Monday, October 26, 2015

Public Works looks to November referendum to solve its space issue - By Michelle Libby

This November Windham Public Works department will be on the ballot, looking for $7.7 million to build a new building on the same property to share with the RSU14 transportation department. It is the number one priority for the town at this time. 
“We need this to help us maintain the town’s infrastructure to the best of our ability - this building puts so many constraints on us,” said public works director Doug Fortier.
The need for this upgrade was apparent 15 years ago when it was put on the ballot and defeated by a four to five margin due in part to the need for upgrades and expansion of Windham High School, said town manager Tony Plante. “This is not a new need.” 

In 2013 a property condition assessment was conducted and it failed each component. According to the information handed out by the town the obvious issues were, the site circulation conflicts between public works, school and public users, lack of security, lack of storm water management/treatment, inadequate employee/public parking, undersized fuel storage tanks, no indoor vehicle wash bay, not ADA accessible and inadequate storage. 

What the public works crews and the RSU14 transportation team are working with is outdated space for a job that has become more demanding and regulations more stringent. The existing building was opened in 1980 and then had two additional bays built over the next four years. The school transportation office was moved into portables, then trailers, and now is in a modular building. The crews from the two entities shared space where there really wasn’t any space for them. The lunch and break tables are located just inside the public works office door. The public works crew has lockers crammed into a closet sized space taken from parts storage, but nowhere to take off boots or to dry wet clothing after plowing all night. Sixteen employees work out of the public works building presently. 

“This building is basically one-third the size it needs to be,” said Plante. After discussing needs with each department it was determined that a new facility would need to be 23,000 square feet just for public works. The school department adds on an additional 8,000 square feet. The existing space is 11,200 square feet. 

On November 3, 2015, if voters approve the referendum, official plans will be created, the work will go out to bid and then building will begin, according to Fortier. He anticipates the move in date to be in 2017 or 2018. 

“Rebuilding is not an option. Public works can’t take the year off while construction is going on,” said Plante. If construction is taking place on the other side of the lot, then they can continue to operate.
With the new plan, traffic and workflow will be better and the entire property will have a better footprint. The work will meet or exceed current standards, said Plante. There are two retention ponds in the new plan which will help to clean the run off of grease and oils before it goes into the Pleasant River. The new building will also be further away from the river creating a smaller environmental footprint, said Plante. 

“The building was never designed for what it does now,” he said. 

The new building will be a class 4 structure that can withstand hurricanes and tornados. “We still will need to work out of it,” said Fortier. The cost however does go up when building a more structurally sound structure. 

“We realize you’re spending money,” said Nadeau. “This is going to last for a long time.” The Town of Windham only has one debt, a combination of a road bond and the high school project. It is estimated that it will be paid off in 2022. 

“In 1978, when this was built, Route 302 was a two lane road. See how much the town has changed,” said Fortier. In 1980, the population of Windham was 11,000, now it is close to 18,000 residents. 

“We keep putting Band-Aids on it,” said highway maintenance supervisor Mike Constantine. 

Some of the additions in the new building will be drive through bays for the trucks and an indoor wash bay to help keep equipment clean in the wintertime, which in turn will slow down corrosion and rust to hydraulic lines and cables. 

“We do premature maintenance and repairs. We know we’re losing life because we can’t wash during the winter,” he added. “We know it. We can’t put a number on it.” Public works takes care not only of the trucks, but police cars, school buses and town vehicles, a total of more than 50 vehicles.  

“It effects reliability and safety at some point,” Plante added. Broken equipment and trucks are not out on the road. 

“The public doesn’t see how the maintenance and mechanics have to coordinate projects,” said Constantine. The team doesn’t have the space to do routine maintenance, only work on trucks and buses that are broken in some way. 

“We don’t have that luxury here,” said Fortier. 

In the new building, all maintenance workers will be able to share equipment and help one another. The building and ground maintenance team doesn’t fit in the existing building and has a shed and space at the Windham Town Hall during the summer months. 

With the proposed conceptual plan for the new building and garage, trucks will be able to get out on the roads an hour earlier during a snow storm because they can be loaded the night before and left inside, requiring no warm up time for hydraulics and other fluids, said town council chairman Dave Nadeau.
In the new plan efficiency and value, productivity, convenience/public access, safety and security and environmental impact are addressed. The life span of the new building is 50 years and it is anticipated that it will serve the town well. 

“We’re one of the more rapidly growing communities in southern Maine. It has to be built to build the population,” said Plante. “The best option is to replace it.” 

There will be an open house at the public works building at 185 Windham Center Road on Saturday, October 24 and October 31. The public is invited to come to the facility to see the equipment, the space, and imagine where the new building would be located.  

“We want them to see the restraints put on us by the facilities,” said Fortier. “We’re doing the best we can because what choice do we have at this time?”

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