WHITMAN — The Board of Selectmen is planning a joint meeting with the Department of Public Works Commissioners and superintendents on Tuesday, Dec. 7 to discuss the town’s need for a new DPW building.
Town Administrator Lincoln Heineman told Selectmen on Nov. 9 that he had received the feasibility study for a new structure from Environmental Partners, which was funded by a Town Meeting-approved appropriation, examining the need and likely cost of a new DPW building.
“Certainly the board knows the condition that that building is in,” he said of the study. “It identifies an amount of $11 million in order to have a new DPW building.”
Heineman also met with DPW Commission Chairman Kevin Cleary and the department’s two superintendents the week of Nov. 1-5 to discuss what the plan is going forward and how the town can envision the needs for the facility with the feasibility study in mind.
“I think it would make sense to have a joint meeting of the DPW commissioners and the Board of Selectmen to talk about the desirability of what’s before … the town if this is the project the town wants to pursue at this time and, if so, what the timing of that would be.”
Heineman’s preliminary recommendation is to pursue it in two pieces — seeking 10 percent of the cost at the May 2022 Town Meeting to fund clear architectural drawings and, at a future date, attempting to obtain the remainder of funds needed to actually build it.
“That would almost certainly require an operational override at that time,” he said. “The other key thing to think about, in addition to is this the building that the town wants and what the timing might be in achieving it, I think another thing to consider is whether at Town Meeting, or as an appointment from this board… is whether or not to have a building committee for the [project].”
As discussion of the issue progressed, Selectman Brian Bezanson broached the idea that perhaps the town could seek funds through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal, passed by the House of Representatives on Friday, Nov. 5 — and signed Monday, Nov.15 — to help reduce the financial burden of the project on the town.
“It’s a hazard down there,” he said, noting that earlier in the meeting they had been praising the DPW crews for the work they did during and after the recent nor’easter. “In the next breath we’re trying to figure out how to make their life safer, so we need to work on this and convince the citizens that this is an important part of going forward.”
He noted that, while he had not looked into it deeply as yet, it could be somewhere the town could look to “get something to help” because there was a lot of gray area there.
He suggested that the town’s representatives in Washington be asked to look into.
According to the White House’s updated state fact sheet for Massachusetts, the act includes $4.2 billion for federal-aid highway apportioned programs and $1.1 billion for bridge replacement and repairs under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act over five years for Massachusetts. Another $2.5 billion over that span is devoted to public transportation, $63 million for EV charging stations, $100 million for broadband coverage across the state, $5.8 million for wildfire prevention and $15.7 million for protection against cyber attacks. Another $1.1 billion is aimed at improving water infrastructure to remove lead pipes from water supply lines in Masschusetts, and $244 million for airport infrastructure.
Bezanson reminded the board that, if the Occupational Safety and Health Administration became involved with the building, the town would be in “deep trouble.”
“The longer we wait, the more expensive it’s going to get,” Selectmen Vice Chairman Dan Salvucci said, noting it had been estimated at a similar price tag for “top line” buildings, or a less extensive one. “Eventually, we’re going to need a new building, and the people have to understand that.”
Selectman Randy LaMattina said he was among those voting against the previous DPW building request because he felt at the time that the need hadn’t been adequately proven to residents.
“It wasn’t sold properly to the town,” he said. “I certainly wasn’t convinced, sitting in the crowd that night… we were kind of presented with ‘vote for it now, or you know what? The price is going up.’”
He said, sitting in a different role right now, it is one the town absolutely can correct now what was then seen as a mistake. Already serving on the Whitman Middle School Building Committee, LaMattina said a DPW Building Committee was a good idea, but he did not want to be on it.
“I would hate to think we’re trying to rush this for a May Town Meeting,” he said, arguing that Heineman’s two-phase approach would be a better approach.