ST. ALBANS TOWN — Plows, salt trucks, culvert experts and road workers may be easy to forget until it snows, floods wash roads away, or one is sitting in traffic as the road is being repaved.
But, a week from Tuesday, St. Albans Town officials will ask residents to think deeply about the Department of Public Works (DPW). The Nov. 10 special election, asks for approval of a $2.4 million project to build a new DPW facility on town property along Brigham Road.
If not now, say town officials, the project will surely have to be done down the road. The current facility, which sits on just over three acres and is yards away from St. Albans Bay, is arguably too small, too old and too environmentally damaging to continue. It was built in 1983.
The selectboard has not been unanimous on the issue: while Bruce Cheeseman has participated in the DPW project steering committee since it was formed a year ago and has promoted the new building, Sam Smith has been reluctant. He’s said the project cost is too high, and that local option taxes – approved by voters in 2014 strictly for capital infrastructure projects – don’t seem to be the appropriate funding source.
The board will hold a public hearing on the issue Monday, Nov. 2, at 6:30 p.m. at Town Hall. Another public hearing will be held during the regular selectboard meeting Monday, Nov. 9, leading into the vote the next day.
Anyone who wishes to comment anonymously can contact town manager Carrie Johnson. “They can certainly call me, e-mail or send me an anonymous letter,” she said Monday.
At this week’s meeting, resident Dick Day advised the selectboard to consider turning the front of the building to face south to maximize sunlight and rearrange other parts of the facility. He also suggested the project be accomplished in two or three parts, not all at once.
Selectboard members said they would take his ideas, and any other residents’ comments, under advisement. Thus far, few other public comments have been made.
Voters will cast their ballot at Collins Perley Sports & Fitness Center between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m.
In an effort to get the word out to voters, Johnson, DPW director Steve Beauregard and selectboard member Dave McWilliams toured the current town garage Monday morning. It sits on a bend at the beginning of Georgia Shore Road, marked by a green gate and sign.
Beauregard and Johnson pointed out heavy equipment scattered around the parking lot – currently, the four bays and garage don’t have enough space for all of it.
“Our very expensive rolling stock is left outside,” said Johnson. “It’s not ideal.” Pipes, old culverts, tires, even washing and drying machines are all left outdoors, too.
On one end of the lot inside the garage bays, there’s a clutter of equipment, neon vests, narrow spaces for vehicles and, in the corner, barrels of chemicals: lubricants, used absorbents.
At the other end is the open barn acting as a salt shed, sitting a stone’s throw from the lapping blue waters of St. Albans Bay.
Previously, the floor drains in the garage led right to the water. “We’ve had to close those all off,” said Beauregard, adding that vehicles can only be washed outside when the temperature is above 32 degrees. He said it wasn’t much better that way – the salty water still went onto the cracked driveway, and eventually into the lake.
Dotting the edge of the current site are storage spaces: the first-ever town garage with an uneven floor and filled with extra salt and street signs; little outbuildings filled with hay and grass seed; and a makeshift house for a generator.
“It’s not even a building,” said Beauregard, pointing. “It’s the back of a truck.”
Inside his small, wood-walled office, Beauregard stood among employee notices, a white board with a list of projects, water coolers and leftover donuts, and a bulletin board with thank-you notes from local residents.
Beauregard explained that a new, larger DPW facility has been on his mind for a long time.
“When I was hired eight years ago, one of the first things they told me is we would be moving [to a new facility] in a year,” he said. That, obviously, has not happened yet.
With six full-time employees and one part-time to take care of just under 55 miles of road, Beauregard said that number is only expected to grow at the Town of St. Albans does and the increasing requirements for stormwater mitigation. “We are very tight on space,” he said.
In addition to being cramped, Beauregard was concerned about the lack of oil separation, wash stations and other infrastructure to protect water quality.
“There’s a lot of stuff that we don’t have, [and we do have] a lot of stuff environmentally that should be next to the lake,” he said.
“Even in our town plan, it’s addressed,” pointed out Johnson. “We need to address this issue and move this from the lake.
The proposal is to build a new, 200 by 56 foot facility near 210 Brigham Road. A salt and brine shed would be included, as would a small mound wastewater treatment system. Space would be left open for possible future municipal offices to be added onto the site, too, if voters so wished.
Project manager Tom Barden of Hinesburg-based Barden Inspection and Consulting Services was hired in April, and in August, the selectboard heard cost estimates for the building. While his initial estimate was $3.4 million, Johnson said the town has continued to ask for revisions to both the project and the cost, and it was knocked down to $2,482,000 for the November special election.
“We’re down to bare bones at this point,” said Beauregard.
“Bare bones” will include nine bays for equipment, indoor washing stations, appropriate drainage for chemicals, an office space, conference room and workshop.
In addition, the DPW would help build a salt and brine shed, the cost for which – $268,000 – is considered separate from the overall facility.
Looking to the future
When it comes to the special election Nov. 10 (see sidebar for articles), Johnson said voters can say yes or no to the project, but regardless, it will need to be done someday because of space needs or state environmental regulation or both.
“We want this building to last for generations – that’s our goal,” she said. “We believe Brigham Road is the best place for that. I don’t really feel comfortable waiting until we’re forced to do it.
Johnson added, “We can do this now on our terms – slowly, methodically and cost efficiently.”
If voters were to approve these funds, the next job would be deciding what to do with the current DPW site.
“We planned once the use stopped here and we moved operations to test it,” said Johnson, adding that the area is most likely considered a brownfield. “That will be another community conversation.”