Right Building? –
Is the Proposed New DPW Garage Properly Conceived, Sized, and Priced for Medfield’s Needs?
By Osler L. Peterson
There is no question the current DPW Garage is not adequate and that an answer is needed. The issue is instead whether the building as proposed is the proper building, at the proper cost, at the proper size, with the proper fittings to fill the town’s need. Too date too many questions remain.
At town meeting, the Warrant Committee clearly stated that they were not making a call about whether the proposed building was the correct answer, rather they said they were relying on others for that determination of appropriateness.
To my mind the proposed DPW Garage was neither fully vetted, nor completely explained to the town, with the result that there still remain too many unanswered questions about its size, scope, and propriety. I cannot tell, nor have I felt sufficiently reassured, from what I have seen and heard, whether what has been proposed is the strictly utilitarian garage storage structure with connected offices for the employees needs that the town should construct. So to date I still do not know whether we are getting the right building or not.
I am happy to be convinced that we need a building that is this big and this expensive, but I have yet to see those answers – and it is not for want of asking. I started asking over a month before town meeting, the day Town Administrator, Mike Sullivan, called to tell me that the night before the Warrant Committee decided to turn a place holder article into a funded article. As a selectman, I usually get information I need when I ask for it, but not this time. By town meeting I had not gotten enough explanation, and what explanation I got only raised more questions than it answered for me.
To assist others determine whether this is the proper structure to build, I have listed my current unanswered questions about the DPW Garage as proposed:
● I will start with a quibble about the actual cost. The DPW garage is presented as a $10 m. building, but since the DPW will be doing the site work (which would otherwise cost almost $1 m.) and since the town has already spent over $500,000 on the construction drawings, the garage is really a $11.5 m. building, without assigning any value to the land on which it will sit. If the DPW were not doing the site work at the garage they would be doing other projects to improve/benefit the town, so their doing the site work for the garage is still a cost to the town, a lost opportunity cost – imagine how many sidewalks or parks could get built with $1 m.
● The cost of the building is mainly determined by its size. So one big question is whether the size of the building is justified? The building is a central office core with two opposing garage wings.
○ The offices portion of the building is larger than two floors of the town house combined. Does the DPW need that much office space?
○ The plan shows forty vehicles being garaged. Are there really 40 vehicles that need to be stored out of the weather? If so, can the town see the list of vehicles proposed to be garaged, so the town can decide if it wants to pay to garage them all?
○ On the plan there are two rooms labeled “spare room” – are those rooms necessary? Or only being build for future needs? Or can they be deleted?
○ The superintendent has an office in the building, to use during emergencies (snow storms), yet the superintendent will keep and primarily workout of his current office at the Town House.
– Does the superintendent need two offices? Or is there a way to provide a smaller space for the superintendent in the garage to use during the 10-15 days we have snow storms a year without dedicating a room to this use year round?
– Or have the superintendent cede his town house office for use by others?
○ Do we need three repair bays? Do we not employ just two mechanics?
○ Do we need to build two bays just for “Plow Storage”?
– Do the snow plows need to be inside year round?
– What is the anticipated cost savings from storing the plows indoors versus the cost to build and heat the extra two bays on the building?
○ One room is labeled “Tire St.” and one “Storage Gen.” – what will these be used for and are they really necessary?
○ Are the rooms necessary that are labeled:
– School Dept.
– Cem. Dept.
– Water Dept.
– Hwy Dept.
– Are these intended as offices for workers?
○ One room is labeled for “Reception” – will there be a receptionist there?
○ For what purpose do we need a “Conference/Operations” room?
– Could the larger “Crew Room,” which is shown with eight tables and thirty-two chairs, double as the conference room?
○ Do we really need men’s and women’s locker rooms?
– Would it make sense to let the workers return home at the end of their work days to shower and change at home?
– There are no women employees, and yet we are building a room for seven “Women Lockers” – is there a better way to create equal facilities for possible future women employees than to build a facility with no current use?
● Different configuration
○ Should the building’s twin garage wings be wider so that each bay can park three to four or more vehicles end to end instead of the propose two to three, to save on the cost of the thirty-nine garage doors? What are the cost trade offs from saving on garage doors versus increased structural cost of a wider building?
● Should the garage bays be heated? Most residents’ garages are not heated.
○ What is the increase in the efficient use of the heated equipment versus the increase in cost to heat the bays, both the cost to construct the heaters and the ongoing cost to operate the heaters?
○ Could plug in electrical engine block heaters get one the increased efficiencies of faster starting of the diesel engines in the winter at a much lower cost to build and run?
○ Vehicles corrode faster if kept in heater garages
● Should the building be constructed entirely of masonry block, as proposed, or to save money, should it be masonry block on the bottom with a metal building sitting on top of those masonry blocks or all metal?
○ What are the trade offs and what are the costs of each?
○ I am told that the cost difference is small (2%), thus militating against use of a metal building, but I would like to see a greater discussion of the details.
○ Masonry building last longer, but will things change so much in the 40 years that we might get from a metal building that whatever we build will no longer be serviceable. Note that the town is currently looking at replacing 40 year old masonry block public safety buildings because they no longer meet the current needs of police and fire.
● Would it be cheaper for the town to enter into a design, build, and operate agreement with a private developer to build the garage, or a sale and lease back of a completed garage on a long term basis?
○ Could such arrangements avoid the added construction costs the town faces when it does construction on its own – those costs are said to increase municipal construction costs by upwards of 25% (i.e. – could we save $2.5 m.)?
● Can we repair the existing garage and build additions onto that structure? What would be the costs, the savings, and the compromises?
The size and many choices make this building as expensive as it is, so the town must be certain that it needs all the things that are in the building. To paraphrase Senator Everett Dirkson, “a million here, a million there, pretty soon you are talking real money.” Let’s together make sure we are buying the right size, right building.