Yarmouth council weighs bond for new public works facility

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YARMOUTH — Three years of discussions and planning will take a more tangible shape when town councilors on Feb. 16 discuss plans for a new Public Works facility.

At the meeting next week, councilors are expected to decide how much to seek in a construction bond for the facility, which would be built at the department’s North Road location.

The bond would be on the June 12 ballot.

Public Works Director Erik Street said it could be at least two years before the facility, with offices and maintenance areas, could be completed.

Street estimated the new building could cost about $5 million, plus or minus $500,000 depending on variables including the cost of heating and lighting for the proposed 20,000-square-foot facility.

Street said the town has allocated about $100,000 for preliminary work on the building plans. If a bond is approved by voters, another $100,000 could be allocated to prepare plans for the Planning Board, including environmental surveys and studies.

“The town is going to have to do something,” said Street, an 18-year public works veteran who has led the department for a decade.

Yarmouth Town Manager Nat Tupper said while councilors seem to support the project, it could be a difficult sell with voters because of economic conditions and a lack of public understanding about the scope of department work.

“Public works has no natural constituency,” Tupper said.

Street agreed his department of 11 employees is not always a visible presence.

“People see us plowing snow and sweeping streets, but they may not see us putting voting machines into the American Legion hall,” he said.

The plan to replace the existing facility, which is actually two adjoining buildings, both at least 40 years old, took hold when Street approached councilors about creating an indoor wash bay for town-owned vehicles, he said.

Federal and state environmental regulations allow employees to rinse, but not wash vehicles outside the facility. Because of this and the lack of indoor washing space, town plows are especially prone to buildup of corrosive materials and cost more to repair than should be needed, Street said.

A tour taken by councilors about two years ago led to deeper discussions of what should be done at the facility, and the need for space became more critical in the fall when public works employees also took on the responsibility of maintaining Yarmouth School Department vehicles, including 16 buses.

The department is already responsible for maintaining all municipal vehicles, and Street said the space crunch with four bays for use or storage is difficult to work around.

Because plow trucks remain outside, at least 30 minutes is needed to warm them before plowing begins, Street said. Nearly all 65 miles of Yarmouth roads are municipally plowed.

Street said keeping Public Works at the North Street location is the most desirable plan because of available space and utilities, and because it avoids impact on another neighborhood from a move and construction.

If voters approve the construction bond, Street and Tupper said the first step in the project will occur next door at ball fields owned by Yarmouth Community Services and used by the Yarmouth Little League.

A separate storage barn for sand and equipment will encroach on one of three fields next door, so the project will begin by creating a new ball field and realigning a second one.

Yarmouth Little League President Justin Whitlock said discussion of the new facility initially worried him because it could hamper the leagues, which have about 225 athletes.

He said he learned early on from Tupper and Street the leagues would not be adversely impacted by construction work, and Yarmouth Community Services Director Marcia Noyes said she acted as a go-between to ensure all needs were met.

“I feel there was good respect for the Little League,” Whitlock said. He noted the new and realigned fields would not have the sun problems that afflict players in early evening games.

Noyes said the public works project also includes needed improvements for parking at the adjacent recreation area, including more spaces and an access road children will not have to cross to get from batting cages to the fields.

“This should be a lot safer for the kids,” Noyes said.

Street estimated the work at the recreation area could cost about $500,000. Additional unknown project costs could come from adjustments necessary to operate the public works department as construction occurs on the existing site.

Tupper and Street said plans are preliminary, and could include storing school buses at other town properties and leasing space from neighboring towns for public works vehicle maintenance.

Tupper said the town debt service will be reduced this year because bonds for the waste-water treatment facility and Harrison Middle School construction will be retired.

Including outstanding bonds for local schools, the town currently owes $18.3 million in bond payments and $3.9 million in bond interest payments through 2024, he said.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow David on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Sidebar Elements

Yarmouth Public Works Director Erik Street said discussions leading to a proposal for a new public works facility began with the lack of space to properly wash vehicles at the existing North Road site. “The town is going to have to do something,” Street said, about creating more space for maintenance and storage.

Additional space in a proposed new Yarmouth Public Works depot on North Road would allow snowplows to be stored inside, eliminating the need to warm them for at least 30 minutes before use.

Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.