New DPW Facility Price Tag Triples, While Road Repair Costs Soar
Public Works Officials, Mayor Opt To Push Ahead with Phase One of the Project, Pegged at $16 Million.
NORTHAMPTON – The price tag for modernizing and constructing a reconfigured public works facility on Locust Street is now estimated at $26 million, almost three times the figure the mayor and other public officials pitched last summer, Northampton Media has learned.
Last June, the City Council voted to spend $800,000 to hire a design firm to review an old site plan and draw up plans for the new Department of Public Works (DPW) yard at 125 Locust Street.
The 2010 new plan called for moving the water and sewer departments from their Prospect Street building, and making room for the Central Service Department’s maintenance division. It also called for renovating a 130-year-old maintenance barn, adding onto the McNulty administration building to relieve cramped offices for the engineering department, replacing a deteriorated city fueling station and providing overhead cover for equipment stored outside. (See “Fumes, Deteriorating Buildings and a Space Crunch Documented at DPW Facility.”)
At the time of the council’s debate over the $800,000 design funds, Mayor Mary Clare Higgins and public works officials talked about a $9 million price tag for the overall project, which they said could be done in phases.
The plan, they said, was always for the water and sewer enterprise funds to pay half of the engineering and construction costs.
(To see the mayor’s presentation to the City Council from last June, click here.)
The design funds passed 7-2, with Councilors Eugene Tacy and Angela Plassmann voting “no.” (See “DPW Design Funds OK’ed in Lopsided City Council Vote.”)
This week, however, DPW Director Edward “Ned” Huntley unveiled the latest cost estimate for the whole project: $26.1 million.
The Budget Buster: Meeting State Building Codes on the Old Barn
Huntley met Wednesday with the Capital Improvements Program Committee (on which he sits) to present his five-year plan for capital projects like street repairs, equipment replacement, property purchases and building construction.
Included on Huntley’s list was a request for $24.5 million in Fiscal 2013 for the “Central DPW Facility.” (To see that two-page document, click here.) In the narrative, though, the document states that the total cost to “completely renovate the complex” would actually be $26.1 million.
Because of the high cost, the document continues, the project will be split into phases, with the first piece to cost $16.6 million.
“This phase builds a new building for centralized vehicle maintenance, allows for consolidation of most of the DPW onto the complex and rebuilds the City fueling depot.”
Huntley told the committee the current plan is to leave the circa-1890 equipment maintenance and storage barn in place, construct a new maintenance building behind it on the sprawling parcel, and to use the old barn as an equipment storage site. The planned $2.1 million addition to the administration building, he said, could be phased in later years.
(To see a pdf of the Phase One and the Complete Project drawings, click here.)
“While a phased approach does not result in the savings of what a single construction project would provide, it may be the only financially viable way to build the necessary buildings and infrastructure to support one of the largest City Departments,” the narrative concludes.
The budget-buster, Huntley told Northampton Media, was the cost to upgrade and modernize the old vehicle maintenance barn and meet current building codes. It will be cheaper, he said, to leave the old barn in place, replace its functions with a new building elsewhere on the DPW site, and tear it down in a later construction phase.
The capital committee, which last week began meeting with various departments on their five-year requests, asked questions of Huntley as he worked his way down the list of 19 separate items.
The committee, which is chaired by Ward 5 Councilor David Murphy and includes city officials from various departments, took no action.
In several weeks, after reviewing city-wide capital requests, the committee will meet to prioritize projects, identify funding sources, and make recommendation to the mayor. Her list of projects to be funded will then go before the City Council for its OK by June. This year’s submission by all departments totalled about $12 million. (To see the complete FY 2012 list, click here.)
The Mayor and BPW Chairman Weigh In on the Higher Price Tag
The architectural firm hired for the redesign job is HKT Architects Inc. of Somerville. For this project, Huntley said, HKT has partnered with Weston & Sampson Engineers Inc. of Peabody, an environmental and infrastructure consulting firm experienced in public works facilities.
Terry Culhane, chairman of the Board of Public Works (BPW), serves on the DPW Building Committee, which has been meeting with the design team for months.
Renovating the old barn, he told Northampton Media, was financially out of the question. “No matter how we sliced it or diced it, we lose,” he said. He said the current plan it to use the building for equipment storage and tear it down in Phase 2.
Asked about the soaring price tag, Mayor Higgins said Thursday she was surprised by the swollen cost estimate, but said she has always considered the project one that must be phased in over several years.
“I was concerned,” Higgins told Northampton Media. But she said it is important to move ahead with Phase One because the facility is in bad shape and the department needs safe, efficient work space to perform its important role in tackling the city’s infrastructure. “We’ll do the most important things first.”
Higgins said the new maintenance building will need specialized equipment, proper ventilation and work areas, adequate bathrooms and safety features.
While the city spent the past several years addressing the needs of other city departments that needed new buildings – schools, the fire and police headquarters and a new senior center, for instance – the time is right to focus on the DPW’s needs, she said.
City Finance Director Christopher Pile said he is building a budget that targets about $8 million in borrowing to pay for half the $16.6 million costs for Phase One of the DPW facility project. The other half, he said, will come from the Water and Sewer Department enterprise funds.
The DPW’s Massive Five-Year Capital Plan
A quick look at the DPW’s five-year capital request is mind-boggling, with a total request of $66.7 million through 2017. (To see the complete DPW list, scroll to the bottom of this article.)
To replace aging or broken DPW trucks and other equipment, Huntley is seeking $819,000 for Fiscal 2012 (which starts this July 1), and $3.57 million over five years.
For street resurfacing, Huntley is seeking $4.5 million a year for five years, or $22.5 million over five years.
He’s also seeking $360,000 next fiscal year to purchase a 5-acre state-owned parcel next to the DPW yard on Locust Street. There’s $550,000 for flood control over two years, $2 million to replace storm drains over five years, $500,000 for sidewalk construction and repair over five years, and $500,000 for decommissioning the old leachate plant at the landfill.
Then there’s road reconstruction projects.
For folks who live on or use North Street, it looks like another year of waiting. The list shows $1.4 million requested for Fiscal 2013. Huntley told the committee the street will need all new utilities – water, sewer, curbing, etc. – which has delayed the project another year.
There’s also $900,000 to reconstruct Milton Street (FY 2014), $1.5 million to rebuild Hinkley Street (FY 2015) and $3 million for the reconstruction of Ryan Road (FY 2016).
Huntley said crack sealing and repaving can prolong a street’s life and postpone for years the need to reconstruct it, but that because road maintenance has been deferred for lack of funding, the list of failing roads keeps getting longer.
“Our deficit keeps growing and growing,” Huntley told the committee.
If he could just catch up to the list of failed roads, Huntley said, it would only cost him about $500,000 a year for a decade to maintain the city’s approximately 160 miles of streets in good condition. But, he added: “It’s catching up that’s the problem.”
2011 Northampton Media
David Reid can be reached at email@example.com