Informational meeting, open houses scheduled
By Stephanie Choate
With no contested races on the March 5 ballot, residents have just one major decision on Town Meeting Day, aside from the typical town and school budget questions.
Article 5, as listed on the town report, asks if voters will authorize the construction of a new public works facility “at a total cost not to exceed $5,900,000,” including land acquisition, through a bond to be financed over a period of 20 years or less.
On Monday, the Williston Selectboard unanimously voted to authorize Town Manager Rick McGuire to finalize and execute a purchase and sales agreement, selling the existing public works facility to Thomas Hirchak for $1.1 million. Hirchak, who owns the property next door, is willing to be flexible on the town’s occupancy timeline, McGuire said.
That $1.1 million would go toward the proposed facility, meaning the estimated cost is $4.8 million. Money to help pay for the bond would also come from the town’s water and sewer customers.
The estimated tax impact is 2 cents per $100 of property value—or $60 for a $300,000 home—which would decline each year as the bond is repaid.
Residents can learn about the plans at a public meeting set for Feb. 20 at 7 p.m. at the Williston Town Hall. Open houses at the current public works facility are also set for Feb. 16 and 23 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Currently, the town’s highway, water and sewer departments are housed in two buildings, along with a salt shed, on James Brown Drive. The highway department has been in the 40-year-old building since 1975, when the town maintained 43 miles of road.
“Now, we maintain in excess of 70 miles of road and we’ve got the same facility,” McGuire said. “It’s really to the point where we can’t put if off any longer.”
McGuire said he couldn’t think of a worse spot for the town’s public works department, located in the far northwestern corner of town, off busy Route 2A.
“Just the location alone impacts our ability to provide services,” McGuire said. “Whenever there’s a storm, especially during rush hour, our trucks are stuck in traffic on Route 2A. That means they’re not plowing roads in our neighborhoods, and roads are getting slipperier.”
Aside from the poor location, McGuire and Public Works Director Bruce Hoar said the highway, water and sewer departments have outgrown the current facility.
“It’s too crowded,” said Mark Russell, assistant road foreman, looking at the plows, dump trucks and tractors parked bumper to bumper in the town’s 8,880 square-foot highway garage. “We’re at capacity.”
Next door, the water and sewer department’s four employees fill its one-room office, which also functions as a kitchen and break room.
“Basically, it’s small and crowded,” said Water Technician Dennis McKenna. “We’re outgrowing the space.”
The men also said they would appreciate having a shower—rather than one small bathroom—for the unfortunate occasions when they have to respond to sewer leaks.
“It’s cramped,” said Foreman Aaron Ciosek, who has worked there for 11 years. “We don’t have enough space for equipment that we need to have close by. …We don’t need anything too fancy, just practicality and convenience.”
McGuire said the new facility has been on the list of projects needed for the town since he began working in Williston 15 years ago.
Without a new facility, Hoar said the town would be looking at “some major expenses” at the existing facility. The salt shed—which he said is held together with cable and plywood—would need to be repaired immediately. The buildings are also not equipped with sprinklers, leaving $2 million of equipment vulnerable to fire damage.
According to a planning study conducted by Weston & Sampson Engineers, Inc., the new facility would be nearly 35,000 square feet—roughly three times the size of the current buildings. It would include expanded office and employee facility space, maintenance bays and vehicle and equipment storage, which would take up approximately 60 percent of the space.
Hoar said 35,000 square feet seems like a lot of space, but most of it will be “basically a big barn with a door on each end.”
“It would have room for expansion, but we’re not overbuilding,” he said.
McGuire noted that the plans have been scaled back from Weston & Sampson’s original cost estimate of $7.7 million.
“What we’re proposing is bare bones,” McGuire said. “We’re not building a palace here, were building a basic steel structure garage.”
If voters approve the expenditure, town officials would work to finalize the site for the new facility. Town officials are currently in negotiations with two property owners, and may add a third to the list, McGuire said.
Then, they would put the project out to bid using a process called design-build, meaning the same firm would design and build the facility.
Voters will ultimately decide whether to approve the bond on March 5. Voting will take place at the Armory from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
A public meeting is set for Feb. 20 at 7 p.m. at the Williston Town Hall. Open houses at the current public works facility are also set for Feb. 16 and 23 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.