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DPW Complex Out-of-Sight, But Vital to Town Safety, Security & Beauty

by Russell Harris,


   In a preliminary step, voters at Town Meeting approved spending $4.6 million to upgrade the DPW garage/administrative building as well as replacing two, deteriorated, large vehicle sheds with a single vehicle storage building at the DPW complex on Cow Pond Brook Road. But, before the work can proceed, voters must approve borrowing for the project at the town election ballot on May 21.

    Most capital projects in town involve prominent buildings seen and used by the public. [Fire Station, Police Station, Schools, etc.] The visibility of these major public building makes project approval easier because the structure’s utility to the town and its people is clear. But the DPW Depot project on Cow Pond Brook Road is different. Most residents are only vaguely aware of it, even though an effective Department of Public Works is the foundation of public safety, recreation, convenience, and civic beauty in town. 

   Because the DPW complex is ‘out-of-sight, out-of-mind’, it might be easy for voters to reject what could seem like an unnecessarily expensive project costing $4.6 million, however, voters should understand that this project just brings the area up to a healthy safe and secure status for the workers and protects the town’s multi-million dollar investment in equipment used to maintain the town’s roads, buildings and parks. 

 The purpose of this article is to give a basic explanation of the plan and the need for the upgrades. 

Two Basic Project Elements

There are two primary elements of the proposed project.

Renovaating and upgrading the existing Vehicle Repair/Administrative building.  

Replacing the deteriorated buildings used as storage garages for the DPW’s multi-million dollar inventory of trucks and equipment.

Vehicle Repair/Administrative Building

   Constructed in 1989, the existing structure has not been renovated or upgraded over the past 30 years. The front third of this building accomodates offices, locker room, bathrooms and break room for DPW employees. The remaining two-thirds of the structure contains a large open area for vehicle repair and storage. The first phase of the project involves reconfiguring and upgrading this building to make it safer, more functional and meet code. 

 It is not easy to capture the ramshackle condition of this structure without actually walking around the building. The offices and break room are small, dingy, cramped, run down and are a poor working environment. The adjectives decaying, shabby, dingy come to mind when describing this building’s interior. In addition, the repair garage area has strong odors of oil, gas and chemical fumes due to the failed ventilation system. While the DPW staff has made every effort to maintain the building systems, the systems have simply out lived their life expectancy.  

   A significant upgrade is needed to provide adequate ventilation for the repair garage area. In addition, one of the expensive compliance issues is meeting environmental code requirements that all vehicles be washed inside rather than outside, requiring installation of floor drains and waste water capture and recycling that substantially adds to the cost of the upgrade. In addition, State Building Code (780 CMR 9th Edition) requires that both this building and the new vehicle storage garage be sprinkled. Since there is no municipal water source on site, a 40,000-gallon cistern will be installed for the fire suppression system. 

   According to project architect Greg Yanchenko, the administrative/vehicle repair building was built in 1989 and was too small from the outset. Yanchenko said DPW Director Tom Delaney and his staff have been doing ‘yeoman’s work’ keeping the building working with ‘band aids’ but it is ‘severely deteriorated’ and some of the mechanical systems have failed. Despite these problems, architect Yanchenko says the structure itself is sound. Therefore, the plan is to strip the building, gut it, leave the structure in place and install a new building envelope, bringing it up to code by installing a new heating system, new electrical system, and making it energy efficient. The estimated cost for this phase of the project is approximately $2.8 million. Architect Yanchenko said that preserving the structural skeleton of the building rather than starting from scratch saves about $1.5 million.

Storage Garage Replacement

    Much of the town’s multi-million dollar inventory of DPW equipment is kept under cover in two large unheated, ramshackle sheds that DPW Director Tom Delaney and his crew built from salvaged materials from other town buildings over the years. One shed was built from steel beams salvaged from a garage once located on  Willowdale Road. The larger equipment storage shed was salvaged from the old Leatherboard factory in West Groton. Architect Yanchenko said he doubted these buildings had ever been permitted, pointing out they do not meet current seismic code and saying, “If this structure came down because of high winds and rain the town would lose over half a million dollars worth of equipment.” He said, “This is not a sound building and would not comply with current code. 

     “Everybody asks ‘why it is costing $1.6 million for a large storage garage?’” Yanchenko said. He explained that this new storage garage, costing $1.6 million, is comparable to similar construction in Massachusetts’ towns and municipalities. He said, “I assure everybody that there is not an ounce of gold plating on this building.” The building will be constructed of insulated metal panels with a four-foot foundations and a four-foot high knee wall so that trucks entering and exiting won’t damage the structure.

   He said that there will be minimal heat in there just to keep temperatures at about 55 to 60 degrees. The large open support-free structure of the building interior will allow parking more vehicles than the current shed/garage.

   During Town Meeting, Marlena Gilbert asked what are the expected cost savings to having the vehicles stored indoors vs. outdoors. Weston & Sampson Engineers prepared a technical memo that estimated that for a fleet of approximately 30 vehicles (size of Groton DPW), the DPW pays approximately $4M for additional service, maintenance and replacement of vehicles stored outdoors over the life of the building (30 years for pre-engineered buildings). In short, the DPW will save approximately $134K per year by storing the vehicles indoors vs. outdoors. The payback on the new vehicles storage building at $1.6M is 12 years.  

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