BRUNSWICK — Residents are preparing to campaign against a proposed bus garage that is part of the School Department’s plan for renovations at two schools next year.
Andrew Peabody, a leader of the Water Street Neighborhood Association, said a proposed location on Industry Way is “a pretty serious assault” on a neighborhood that is already buzzing with activity from the town’s public works facility, recreation areas and several businesses.
Peabody said because of this, the addition of a bus garage and the heavier traffic it would produce on Water Street, would raise concerns for the environment, safety, traffic congestion and the overall quality of life in the area.
“The street wasn’t developed for this (kind of capacity),” Peabody said. ” … Because of the proximity of the houses to the road, there isn’t a capacity to expand it. If somebody was really neutral and they were a city or town planner, they would say this is kooky.”
Peabody and 11 other Water Street residents attended Wednesday night’s School Board meeting to make their position clear.
During the meeting’s public comment period, three residents outlined what’s at stake for their community; one of the them, Toby McGrath, spoke on behalf of the neighborhood group and asked the board to consider four items before they make a decision.
The group’s first request, McGrath said, is to have the School Board meet with residents of Woodlawn Terrace Senior Housing on Stone Street to discuss the garage’s possible impact on their situation. McGrath said residents indicated they wanted this to happen.
John Hodge, executive director of Brunswick Housing Authority, which manages the Woodlawn Terrace property, Tuesday said the BHA board voted to not take a position on the proposed bus garage until they learn more details.
McGrath then asked the board to formally investigate the possible impact the garage could have on the neighborhood’s environment, human health and traffic patterns. The group’s third request is for the board to consider temporary parking for school buses until this investigation is complete.
The group’s last request, McGrath said, is to have the School Board simply visit the Water Street neighborhood to gain a better understanding of how the garage could impact residents.
The 6 Industry Way property, the site of the now-demolished old Times Record building, is one of four locations proposed for the garage by PDT Architects as part of the School Department’s Master Facilities Plan.
The new garage would be the result of a planned expansion at Coffin Elementary School, which will address a projected bottleneck in capacity and force the department to move the existing garage that is adjacent to the school.
Lyndon Keck, the leading architect for the project, said the Industry Way site is the School Department’s most viable option because the town already owns the property. It also has utilities, which means development costs could be significantly lower than other options.
The site is also next to the municipal fueling station.
But Keck also said PDT won’t be certain the Industry Way property is the best option until his firm develops a comparative matrix of all the sites. He said the matrix, which will weigh the pros and cons of each site, will be ready to present at the School Board’s special meeting for the facilities plan on Wednesday, Dec. 19.
The other options for a new bus garage include a lot at Brunswick Landing, which Keck said wouldn’t be available until 2016; a lot at the new Brunswick Commerce Center on Route 1, which sits on a wetland and doesn’t have existing infrastructure, and a lot the Brunswick Business Park, which also sits on a wetland, but has existing utilities.
Keck said he won’t have cost estimates for each site until he presents the matrix, but if the town were to convey the Industry Way property to the School Department for free, the next best option would cost approximately $295,000 more.
Whatever is decided, it will have an impact on how much money the town will pay when the Master Facilities Plan goes to bond, which is likely to happen next summer.
The current estimate for renovations at Coffin and Brunswick Junior High School, along with construction of a new bus garage, is $21 million, based on a research in the plan’s first phase. Town Manager Gary Brown estimated at a November Town Council meeting that would mean a 6-7 percent increase in property taxes.
Hannah Steffian, Peabody’s wife and another member of the Water Street Neighborhood Association, said she understands why the School Department may be seeking the least expensive option for a bus garage.
“We totally understand that the school budget is an issue,” Steffian said. “We are fully aware that balancing a school budget is an insanely difficult task and that being able to move to build a school bus garage on a free lot in town would save them money. … We understand that side of the argument, but we feel there are … more longer-term issues that we want to make sure are considered.”
One of those issues is safety, particularly for children, and the elderly and disabled who live at Woodlawn Towers on Water Street, which is maintained by the Brunswick Housing Authority.
“There is a sense that there are a lot of the kids on the street now,” Steffian said, “and for the children who live on this side of street and have to cross in the morning to get to a sidewalk, there’s no crosswalk down here. There’s no sidewalk to get to a crosswalk. I don’t know how that would be taken care of.”
School Board Chairman Jim Grant said he and board member Corinne Perreault met with neighborhood association members earlier this year to discuss their concerns. He said the meetings were “very amicable.”
“Continuous feedback is very important and we want everyone to be happy, but we have to strike a balance,” Grant said. He said PDT and the board have to look at several factors in deciding the bus garage location, including its feasibility, final cost and how it compares to other sites.
Grant said the board will hold community events to solicit more feedback. A decision could be made next spring, he said.
All that’s basically left of the former Times Record building on Industry Way in Brunswick this week is debris and a hole in the ground where workers continue the demolition. The property is being considered for use as a bus garage by the School Department.