Saco Public Works Director Patrick Fox stands in one of the maintenance bays of the new public works facility, which opened Oct. 13 on Phillips Spring Road. Tammy Wells Photo

SACO — When it snows enough to plow Saco’s 250 lane miles of streets and roads, residents of North Street accustomed to hearing the rumble of the plow trucks as they make their way to their designated routes will notice something different.

It will be silent — or as silent as possible when one is used to hearing the steady drone of traffic. But the fleet of plow trucks will not be among them — because the Public Works Department has moved to new digs and will be approaching their routes a different way.

A glimpse inside one of the vehicle maintenance bays at the new Saco Public Works facility. Courtesy Andrew Dickinson/City of Saco

The Saco Public Works Department is now located at 15 Phillips Spring Road, off Spring Hill Road, in the Saco Industrial Park. It opened rather quietly, given the coronavirus pandemic, on Oct. 13.

City officials say it is a better situation for the 40 employees when it comes to getting the work done, a better situation for customers who drop by — just better, all around.

“It was built for what we do,” said Public Works Director Patrick Fox.

The old facility, on North Street, wasn’t. Saco Public Works not only plows snow and maintains roads, and a host of other functions, and a big portion of its workload is keeping the city’s vehicles – fire trucks, police cruisers, ambulances, their own department vehicles, and other city vehicles, up and running. In the old facility, built for a different purpose years ago, the ceilings were too low, making it impossible to put vehicles on a lift to work on them, Fox said. And the doors were narrow — making it tough for plowing equipment to be brought inside, with just a couple of inches to spare, he said.

The new one is plenty big – with room to expand years from now, if need be.

The Public Works Department currently employs four mechanics, keeping the city vehicles in good repair, in four of the six available bays.

The new building is also user- friendly for residents — it is all on one floor. In the former facility, administrative offices were on the second level, making accessibility tough. Workers would come down to the first floor to accommodate residents, but it wasn’t the best set-up, noted Saco’s Communications Director Emily Roy.

All ready for what’s coming are these plow trucks, lined up at the new Saco Public Works facility on Phillips Spring Road. Courtesy Andrew Dickinson/City of Saco

The city bought 42 acres in the industrial park. Multiple lots were created, and more than 20 acres of the land  are slated for industrial or business lot development and will be listed for sale in the near future, said Roy.

When the city asked voters to approve a bond for the 25,000-square-foot facility back in 2017, Fox said the land had not been selected.

“We knew we had to be in a more industrial (rather than) residential location,” he said.

The total cost of the land purchase, building, grounds, fuel islands and related infrastructure was $9.75 million. Saco voters approved a $7.25 million bond for the project in 2017, and the rest coming from the sale of the existing facility, expected to take place sometime this month.

The City of Saco held a private ribbon-cutting on Oct. 8 to mark the completion of its new facility on Phillips Spring Road. On hand were Great Falls Construction president Jonathan Smith, vice-president Cynthia Smith, Saco Public Works Director Patrick Fox, City Administrator Bryan Kaenrath and Mayor William Doyle. Courtesy Andrew Dickinson/City of Saco

Great Falls Construction of Gorham, which built facilities in Westbrook, South Portland and Windham, was the contractor. Once all the design work and permitting was complete, construction, including land preparation, took about a year, Fox estimated.

He said city officials knew the budget was tight, with site preparation costs increasing by about 30 percent from when the project was planned to when the shovels first dug into the ground in 2019, so it kept some items, like storage bins, “on the back burner.”

The department’s salt storage shed, a portable building, was moved from the former public works property, resulting in savings of hundreds of thousands of dollars, Fox said.

The new digs have a number of attributes, Fox and Roy pointed out. Now, because there is the space to do so, employees can pre-load trucks for winter storms, saving about 30 minutes getting to each route, said Roy. And for the first time ever, drivers out plowing for hours on end or those working around hazardous materials can take a hot shower — a feature not previously available, and there is adequate locker space for safety equipment and more.

“We’ve always wanted to provide a better work environment,” Fox said. “The whole department is appreciative. We want to thank the Saco community for their support of the project. We will be working hard to show the community the improved efficiencies this facility brings to the services we provide.”

The school buses will now park on pavement, rather than dirt — it makes a difference, officials say, because parking on pavement with proper drainage helps reduce corrosion, which is a driver for school bus replacement or costly repairs.

The administrative office interiors are designed with flexibility in mind and the conference and training rooms can be isolated from the rest of the offices, which makes then available to the community.

Some adjustments will be made to snow plow routes, Fox said. Given the new public works location, some neighborhoods will see a change.

One community event that didn’t happen this year, due to the coronavirus pandemic, is the bicycle rodeo, which is hosted by the Public Works Department with participation by Saco Police and local community groups. The annual May event distributes bicycles to nearly 100 young people.

They are hoping it will happen in May, 2021.

For those who would like a peek at the new facility, the city’s Communications Department is working on a virtual tour, to be aired on Facebook and YouTube. And Public Works does offer in-person tours, which can be arranged by Amy or Nicole at 284-6641.

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