December 24, 2012

Plan would consolidate Westbrook public services

A $15 million facility upgrade allowing city and school services at the same site is long overdue, officials say.

By Leslie Bridgers
Staff Writer

The Westbrook Public Services Department wants to go under cover.

A plan to spend as much as $15 million on a consolidated public services facility on Saco Street calls for storage buildings and a bus canopy to keep vehicles and equipment out of the elements -- and it is hoped, make them last longer, said Deputy Director of Public Services Arty Ledoux.

Additional office space and more mechanical bays are also part of the proposed project, which would allow all maintenance services for the city and school department to be at the same site, where the public services department is now.

The department's current facility is outdated and in need of urgent repairs, city officials said.

A committee that has been working on the plan will recommend in January that the City Council spend as much as $15 million on the project, Ledoux said. The proposal would be reviewed by the council's Facilities and Streets Committee, which could then make a recommendation to the council.

The council could decide whether to borrow the money or ask residents for approval in a citywide vote on the project, though that's not required, city officials have said.

City officials have talked about upgrading the department's facilities since 2006, but other construction projects, namely a new middle school, have taken precedence.

"For 30 years, we've been dormant up there, and unfortunately it has all caught up with us," said City Councilor John O'Hara, a member of the building committee and chairman of the Facilities and Streets Committee. "It's not at the crisis point, but it's close," he said.

Even if the project is rejected, O'Hara said, money would have to be spent on upgrades to the current facility. He would like to see an overhaul now, when interest rates are low, instead of spending more money on smaller repairs first and a larger upgrade later.

Public Services Director Tom Eldridge said urgent needs include a new heating, ventilation and air conditioning system and repairs to the roof and gutters.

"The whole facility is just outdated," he said.

The department has grown over the years, in terms of the services it provides and workers it employs, but it has the same amount of space, said Eldridge.

Areas of its facility on Saco Street and other city buildings have been repurposed to accommodate the department's needs. But that's not enough, he said.

Having all of the department's services in one place would help everything run more efficiently, he said. Now, public safety vehicles are repaired in an old fire station, the facilities maintenance office is across town in the community services building, and most of the city's salt for treating roads is stored in Portland.

"We've been patient, but it's getting to the point where we need to do something here," Eldridge said.

Staff Writer Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at 791-6364 or at:


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