South Portland unveils $10M plan for Public Works complex, eyes November bond vote

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SOUTH PORTLAND — City Councilors on Monday got their first look at plans for a new, integrated facility for the Public Works, Transportation and Parks departments. 

The plan calls for a 65,000-square-foot building at the city’s transfer station property on Highland Avenue. It would feature covered parking for all service vehicles, a seven-bay maintenance garage and shared administrative space.

City Manager Jim Gailey said the facility would save the city money in the long run by consolidating space and services, and extending the lifespan of city equipment.

The challenge, councilors said, will be convincing voters to approve the $10 million or more it will take to fund construction, just two years after they approved a $41.5 million high school renovation bond.

“There’s not a lot that’s considered sexy about a public works garage,” Councilor Rosemarie De Angelis said. “High schools are sexy, but public works garages? Not so much.”

The city has long identified replacing the current Public Works complex on O’Neil Street, built in the 1930s, as its top capital improvement priority.

The 6-acre site has a dozen or so buildings for Public Works, Parks and Transportation. Old technology is housed in even older buildings. Equipment worth hundreds of thousands of dollars is left outside, tempting rust, because there’s not enough garage space. Storage space is made wherever there’s room, and there isn’t much left. Entire buildings are in disrepair and condemned. And the neighborhood surround the property is weary of the noise and blight.

In 2004, a study was commissioned to analyze the existing facility. It recommended several upgrades and expansions, but in 2005, a $4.8 million referendum to purchase the former Durastone building on Wallace Avenue for a new complex was defeated by voters, 506-472.

The proposed new facility, designed by Sebago Technics, would take up about 10 acres at the transfer station. It would include the consolidated building, plus covered salt and sand storage (unavailable at O’Neil Street), a greenhouse, wash bay and refueling station. 

The transfer station would be moved to a different part of the property, and a “swap shop,” where resident could drop off unwanted but still usable goods, would be built.

Gailey said in an interview Tuesday that aside from the Police and Fire departments, the workers at O’Neil Street provide the most important services in the city.

“These are the guys that day-in and day-out keep the community clean, beautiful and functional,” he said. That work is hampered by the outdated, inefficient facility, he said. 

Councilors on Monday generally supported the design, but wanted more concrete information about cost and how much will be saved over time. Gailey said Tuesday that the $10 million in the capital improvement budget is a “placeholder,” and that the actual cost of construction would likely be a little higher.

Councilors also wondered what would happen at the O’Neil Street complex if the city departments move.

“We’re going to be flooded with questions about the cost to mitigate the existing site,” Councilor Tom Blake said. “I don’t know if we’ve touched on that. Is it going to cost us $200,000 or $2 million to destroy that? What is the value of that site, assuming we sell it off for house lots? Can that be applied to the new complex?”

Gailey and Sebago Technics will now hash out the numbers with the heads of the Public Works, Parks and Transportation departments. He said he hopes to get back to the council in the next month or so, to start moving toward a November bond referendum.

“From here on in, we’re working on cost,” he said Tuesday. “After that, marketing to voters is job No. 1.”

Mario Moretto can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or Follow him on Twitter: @riocarmine.