|By Chris Maza
Department of Public Works (DPW) Director Mike Wrabel, center, discusses the poorly constructed salt shed, not pictured, during a tour of the DPW facility.
Reminder Publications photo by Chris Maza
LONGMEADOW – Town officials got a firsthand look at exactly why the Department of Public Works (DPW) needs a new facility.
On Aug. 24, DPW Director Mike Wrabel and members of his team gave the Select Board, along with members of the Finance Committee, Capital Planning Committee, and the School Committee, tours of the facility located on the corner of Emerson and Pondside roads to stress the department’s growing needs.
“We really need something,” he said. “We have some really talented people at the DPW and we have a lot of restrictions because of this facility.”
According to Wrabel, the parcel on which the DPW facility sits is a long, narrow piece of land that is flanked by wetlands on three sides and a portion of it falls in the Connecticut River flood plain.
It measures 5.8 acres in total, however, 1.4 of those acres are devoted to the transfer station. Part of the land was also formerly a burn dump.
“Wherever we dig on the site … whether it’s exploratory or we were digging for whatever reason, we dig up ash and cinders,” he said. “It’s not a good foundation to build on.”
The original DPW building, in which a great deal of work is still conducted, was originally constructed in 1931 and additions were made to the site in the 1950s, 1960s and 1990s.
“There are 30 people that work out of this site. That’s administration, engineering, highway, and water and sewer,” he said.
Wrabel added that while the director of the grounds department and building maintenance has an office on site, his team of six works out of a 1,200 square foot space in the basement of Glenbrook Middle School.
“If they need to cut something on a table saw, they have to take the stuff off the saw, take the saw outside, cut the wood, then take the stuff back inside,” he said.
In the garage of the original building, the DPW has only one lift with which it can perform vehicle maintenance and the department is limited to only certain trucks that can fit on the lift.
“The one-ton sized trucks can get on it, and not all of them because of the lift, and we’re restricted in terms of head room because it’s just too low,” Wrabel said. “We have two very talented mechanics, but we don’t have the room or the equipment and the building isn’t big enough to do what we should do to take care of their talent.”
He also described some of the supporting wood timbers in the building as “soft.”
Because of the proximity to wetlands and the flood plain, Wrabel said the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection told the DPW that it could not paint on site, meaning it must either send anything out to be painted or utilize paint in aerosol cans.
“That was one of the major things we got nailed with years ago,” he said.
On the tour, Wrabel pointed out that wood utility poles supported the concrete road salt storage facility in order to prevent collapse.
He also said the DPW still utilizes underground fuel tanks that are approaching the end of their life and must be removed. In modern facilities, he said, fuel tanks are stored above ground.
Current vehicle storage is inadequate as well with many vehicles or pieces of equipment left to the elements because the bay doors on the building had to be removed to fit the new, larger vehicles required.
It also leaves the buildings open to birds, which present not only a cleanliness issue, but a sanitary one.
“We have a constant guano issue,” Wrabel said. “We keep everything as clean as possible, but it’s a constant battle.”
The base of several metal supporting beams have rusted and rotted to the point they could be seen as unsafe. The walls of the vehicle storage areas were also constructed with asbestos-filled material and in several areas, signs are posted reminding workers not to drill or cut into the material.
Wrabel also said the on-site generator is maxed out and does not power the entire facility. During the October 2011 snowstorm, he recalled, the administrative offices had no power, meaning no computers or phone service until workers who no longer needed them brought generators from home.
After the tour, Ronald Michalski of Tighe & Bond, explained the physical restrictions that would have to be taken into account if the town decided to rebuild the facility on the current site. All told, he said, site development would require extra expenditures of more than $2 million and he suggested considering alternative sites for a new DPW facility.
Citing a 2008 site evaluation completed by his firm, he said 80 percent of the parcel was ill suited for a DPW facility because it was below the Connecticut River’s 100-year flood elevation of 58 feet. While buildings could be placed within that area, they would have to be water proofed, which in 2008 cost $180,000 or more.
He also said the town’s main sewer pipe, as well as an 18-inch drain line run underneath the area currently utilized as parking and the fueling station. If not for those utilities, he said, that area would be the best spot for the development of a new building because it is flood protected.
He explained that building over those utilities would not be recommended because they would be inaccessible in the event of a problem. Therefore, in order to build in that area, the utilities would have to be removed at a cost of more than $1 million.
When asked whether something else could be put in that area if the DPW was located elsewhere, Michalski said playing fields could be an option. He added that a solar array could also be placed there because the panels could be moved if needed or could be arranged in such a way as to not prevent access to utilities.
Also, because of the fact the site was formerly a burn dump, all burn material would have to be removed prior to building at a cost of close to $1 million.
When asked if his department could operate with several smaller locations, Wrabel said for some divisions, it would be possible to separate them, but operationally, things would run much smoother if the majority of the department had a central facility.
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