DURHAM – Residents of Durham had their first chance to hear the progress of the town’s fledgling Department of Public Works at a public informational session last week at the Durham Community School.

The Oct. 8 session drew roughly 24 people, including the Durham Board of Selectmen and Town Administrator Janet Smith.

Selectmen in August entered into formal negotiations to purchase 14 acres at 1099 Royalsborough Road, the location of Copp Excavating, as a potential home for the facility. The decision came after a recommendation from Alice McPeake, representing the Public Works Facilities Committee, during an Aug. 13 board meeting. McPeake said the committee initially suggested the Royalsborough Road property and a smaller, 10-acre lot on Hallowell Road, as possibilities. On Aug. 19, a letter of intent and request for formal negotiations was issued and the town issued an offer on Sept. 27 to Copp Excavating.

Mike Copp, owner of Copp Excavating, said the potential sale is now in the hands of attorneys and that he is staying in business.

“My plan is to temporarily move to another location on Pinkham Brook Road until I find a new location for a bigger shop,” said Copp, who has been at the location since 2001.

The town would like to close on the property by May 15, said Smith in a response to a question posed by Durham resident Ken Scribner. The Board of Selectmen was not at liberty to disclose a purchase price, as it could potentially compromise its negotiating abilities, said Deborah Larrabee, a member of the board. She is also a town columnist for the Tri-Town Weekly. Copp declined to reveal the price, as well.

Residents approved the creation of a nearly $3 million Department of Public Works during town meeting April 6. The town now uses outside contractors to handle major road projects, including snow plowing, culvert replacement, road repair and other capital improvements.

Under the proposed plan for the department, the town would go from having a shared road commissioner and two part-time employees to having a road commissioner, a working foreman, a mechanic/equipment operator, a second equipment operator, two truck drivers/laborers and four part-time seasonal plow operators.

Preliminary numbers outlined by a Durham Public Works Feasibility Study would have the town purchasing six plow-equipped dump trucks, two 1-ton trucks, a loader/backhoe, an excavator and a 20-ton equipment trailer, with an estimated cost of $1.4 million for new equipment.

If the town does purchase the estimated $1.4 million in new equipment, the cost to taxpayers would be roughly $164,000 a year through a 10-year bond.

This summer the town sought volunteers to sit on three steering committees involving finance, personnel and policies and facilities. Those committees have been updating the selectmen over the past month, explained Smith during the roughly 45-minute meeting.

The town will be seeking a $700,000 bond anticipation note to secure earnest money, allow for purchasing equipment when available, and to pay for testing and evaluations, said Smith.

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