WHITMAN – The town has again received a green light to design a new DPW building.
During the special Town Meeting on Monday, May 2, Whitman voters unanimously approved the expenditure of $1,098,100 for creating shovel-ready architectural plans for a new DPW building at 100 Essex St.
The funds, to be spent under the oversight of the Building Committe and Town Administrator Lincoln Heineman will also be used to hire an owner’s project manager.
The funds would come from three sources – $713,765 from water and sewer retained earnings, $234,335 from free cash and $150,000 from the capital stabilization fund.
Engineer Ziad Kary from Environmental Partners Group, who worked with the DPW on the conceptual design, gave a brief PowerPoint presentation on his work.
“The existing facility is dated, it is beyond repair, and the driver behind this is a new facility to replace the old one,” he said. The 170-foot by 100-foot – or 17,500-square-foot – plan replaces the 200-by-100 plan the town had previously rejected. The old building would be razed and utilities would be relocated into the new facility.
“This would bring in all water, sewer and highway [equipment] under one roof,” he said. “This is a basic, basic building, comprised of structural steel and insulated panels.”
There will be vehicle wash bays, storage and maintenance space as well. The next step is to appoint an owner’s project manager, who would bring in a design engineer to see it through construction – anticipated to be a two-year project.
Harvard Street resident Cindy Landeville asked if the town has looked into any grants for the building.
Heineman said the project is still in the early stages.
“Certainly, if there are any grants that may be available, we [the town] will agressively seek them,” he said. “At this time, there’s no grants that we’re aware of, that would assist us in building the Department of Public Works building. … These monies, if approved by Town Meeting, would allow for the project to move forward.”
He said the two DPW superintendents are always looking for grants and the town is working to fill a position, part of which would entail writing grant applications.
Elm Place resident Jerry Blumenthal asked if the building plan includes the DPW administrative offices and where equipment will be maintained and stored while the new building is being constructed after the old one is torn down.
The administrative offices will remain in the current building and equipment will be maintained and stored where they in other buildings on the property.
Highway and parks Superintendent Bruce Martin said the maintenance operation will stay in the back garage, where it is currently run, and costs have been calculated for temporary buildings so employees can work and equipment that must be inside can be stored. Some equipment would be outside during construction.
Another resident asked whether the funds for the actual construction work would come out of a debt exclusion or free cash.
Beyond seeking grants, Heineman said that since 60 percent of the building would be used by the Water and Sewer Department, they would seek funds from the retained earnings balance in the water/sewer enterprise fund.
“After all those pieces are drawn down, I think it’s likely to assume that there will be some portion that will be in a debt exclusion,” he said.
If the Town Meeting does not approve the funds for a debt exclusion, the building would not be built, according to Heineman.
“The overall expectation of the project includes these monies this evening, and if these monies are appropriates by Town Meeting this evening, it would reduce the overall projected cost of the project,” he said.
Two residents asked why the design and OPM costs would be sought when the funds had not been secured to build the building.
Building Committee member Fred Small said the Whitman Middle School funding process, governed by the state’s MSBA, operates in a similar way. It provides an accurate barometer as to what a building is going to cost.
“This is the right way to do this, it’s proper and lord knows, it’s overdue,” he said,
Former Town Adminstrator and member of the DPW Building Committee Frank Lynam noted that he has been through a number of projects with the town.
“In order to appreciate what’s being presented to you today, you need to understand the ground rules,” he said. The Public Works Law requires that any building project exceeding $2 million done by any municipality to hire an OPM and a designer or architect can’t be selected until an OPM is hired.
“In order to start this process – and we have been looking at this since 2008 – we first have to get enough money to hire an OPM and to seek an architect to design the building,” he said.
With the final designs and cost estimates are done, it can be brought back to Town Meeting for ultimate approval and funding.
In other business, the Town Meeting approved a raise in the minimum wage paid to seniors taking part in the tax abatement program.
Article 47 on the annual warrant sought to set the maximum seniors can work off their property taxes to 125 service hours each year. In response to a resident’s question, Heineman said if the article passed the Select Board would discuss the amount each participant could receive in exemption per hour. Right now the maximum amount a single person could work off is $800, roughly coming out to $8 per hour, working a total of 100 hours.
“If this passes … I want to suggest that $8 an hour is not enough and that is should be higher,” he said, noting that the board had recently adopted a policy to pay all municipal hourly employees at least the minimum wage.
While the minimum wage is not necessarily what will be decided on, he said, it would be higher than $8 per hour.
Municipalities are exempt from minimum wage regulations, but may choose to raise salaries.
An article to lower the number of people required to achieve a quorum at town meetings – to 50 for an annual town meeting and 100 for a special town meeting – was also adopted, without discussion.