On a blustery late winter day with just traces of snow on the ground, the Public Works Department fleet of 17, 38,000-pound trucks are parked like sardines in the facility’s garage. With one way in and one way out, Director Art Baker stands in front of the garage door lamenting, “In the event of, say a snow storm, and the door doesn’t function properly, that would be a delay in response time.”
However, a door malfunction is just one issue; the tight space in which the trucks are parked and the single entrance/exit makes backing in and out of the facility a feat for only the most skilled driver. Chief Steward and Equipment Operator Ed Cooke demonstrated just how long it takes to pull in and out– more than five minutes with one near-collision.
In addition to the large plow trucks, the PWD has about 30 more vehicles, which some, at present, are not being stored at the facility. Cooke notes that vehicles are being kept at the transfer station and some will just have to stay outside due to cramped conditions.
In January, the Public Works facility was moved from their former location at 45 N. Main St., to make way for the new fire headquarters– demolition of the old building is slated to begin in the next few weeks and has been held-up due to weather. The temporary facility, which is housed at 137 N. Branford Road, is being leased to the town for three years at a sum of $114,375 the first year, $117,806 the second year and $121,340 the third year. Getting the project for a new facility off the ground, be it another lease, a new-build or renovations to an existing space is vital for both Baker and the interest of the town.
At present, Baker notes that in addition to limited parking and single egress for trucks, there is no wash bay to keep trucks clean and no storage for salt. This past winter, PWD plow drivers retrieved salt from the storage at 45 N. Main St., but the demolition will destroy the shed. At the current location there is nowhere to store salt. Additionally, this salt, which is a vital part of keeping our roads clear of ice, also eats away at the plow beds. To combat the erosion, Baker says a wash bay, with an oil-water separator makes it possible to maintain the trucks. At the current facility there is no such wash bay and if another storm hits, Baker said he’ll be forced to look into having someone come on-site, set up a containment, wash the trucks and then pump the waste water away. “There is a cost,” said Baker, “associated with washing every truck.”
It’s clear that there needs to be a plan in place for the new PWD facility and that’s where Kurt Treiber comes in. Treiber has been a Branford resident for more than a decade and he joined the PWD Building Committee as a way to give back to the community. He is a risk manager for Wallingford by day and has municipal experience in North Branford. His resume includes work on the $13 million new elementary school in North Branford as well as being a certified Connecticut Playground Inspector (CPSI). The only thing he’s missing, he jokes, is a shiny badge to flash when he goes on playground inspections.
Since taking the role of chairman on the PWD Building Committee, Treiber has set up process to ensure all steps are taken to move the department from their temporary quarters to a suitable facility. Part of the planning has been the initiation of a Request for Statements of Qualification (RFQ) and a Request for Proposal (RFP)– both are due to the town today, March 11.
The RFQ is querying local architecture/engineering firms to submit qualifications to chose a site, create a facility design and construct the new space. All applications will be opened at town hall today. Among applicants, the firm Silver Petrucelli and Associates is expected to submit a proposal as they were in charge of the original plan to build a joint facility for Public Works Department and the Fire Department Headquarters back in 2008. SP&A plans for the PWD facility feature a 38,691-square-foot space; the old facility and temporary one are 23,000- and 17,000-square-feet respectively. The firm's existing plans (see photo) is expected to be considered in any decisions for a new facility regardless if they are chosen for the project.
The RFP was a solicitation put out to the public in the hope to have several sites proposed for the new facility. The Tabor property has been on the table as a possible location for new facility for some time though has not officially been selected.
Treiber notes that while Tabor may cost, say $3 million with lots of renovations and accommodations to be made, another property may cost the same but need little work done. “We feel if we are going to make a recommendation,” said Treiber, “We are going to bring forward the best facility that will work for the Public Works Department and the town.”
The town-owned properties that the PWD Committee has looked at in addition to Tabor include a space at Veteran’s Memorial Park and a old volunteer fire house on Pine Orchard Road. Treiber stated other properties the town owns would not work because they are deed restricted or the open space is associated with a school.
The proposed property submissions, which came from residents, property owners and real estate organizations, will also be opened today at Town Hall.
For Treiber, he says, “We are trying to think as globally as we can. Everyone has an opinion on this project and we’re trying to respect that. Everyone has a vision of what this project should look like and end up being but what ultimately fills the needs for and works for Branford.”
In addition to housing the PWD plow trucks and equipment, the PWD facility is also home to a wood shop, which services town needs like dock repair, a maintenance shop for the Board of Education and a mechanic bay to service police vehicles.
To keep the community in the loop on progress, Treiber notes there will be public information hearings in the future (check back on Branford Patch or the town website for dates). “At some point,” said Treiber, “we are going to get community input. We don’t operate in a vacuum.”
As of right now, Baker and his crew are hoping the snow has subsided and they are gearing up to combat flooding and clogged storm drains with spring around the corner. They will operate out of their current space while looking for solutions for the several issues the present facility has caused. The town hired Baker, an ever-resourceful guy, back in December in part because of his cost-effective management. To this new facility project, he brings survey of several municipal garages and one state garage to help propel the project forward. His favorite garage so far, he said, is the state facility in Southbury.
Looking to the future he said, “Time is of the essence so hopefully we’ll have a place to live at the end of these three years.”