Peterborough DPW garage project discussed at public hearing

  • About 25 residents attended and gave feedback on options for the town's Department of Public Works garage during a public hearing on Tuesday at the Peterborough Town House. Staff photo by Ashley Saari—

  • Select Board members Karen Hatcher, Tyler Ward and Chair Barbara Miller take feedback from the public during a public hearing on the proposed DPW garage replacement on Tuesday at the Peterborough Town House. Staff photo by Ashley Saari

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 4/24/2019 9:25:20 PM

During a public hearing on Tuesday, Peterborough residents leaned in favor of a new proposal for the town’s Department of Public Works garage – renovating the current facility.

Currently, the town has an article on the town warrant requesting $3.6 million for a new DPW garage. The cost would cover the construction of a new facility on Water Street, adjacent to the town’s wastewater treatment facility. It has been proposed that after the current garage is moved, the present facility would be torn down to create a site to build a new fire station.

The town went back to look at some alternatives for the garage after receiving concerns about the Water Street plan from residents during the town’s public hearing on the budget on March 5. On Tuesday, the town presented three options, one of which was the Water Street plan, one to renovate the current building on Elm Street, and one to retrofit the former Staff Development for Educators building on Sharon Road.

Renovate the Elm Street facilities

The estimated cost of renovating the current DPW garage, and adding about 10,000 square feet of storage for vehicles, is about $2.5 million.

Town Administrator Rodney Bartlett told residents the underlying steel structure of the garage is in good shape, but the building needs significant renovation, and doesn’t have enough space. It also is not energy efficient. 

There is enough room on the land to build a 10,000 square foot storage to increase the amount of available space, as well as renovating the building, Bartlett said, but the town had also been looking for a future home for the fire department. There is not enough room on the current site to fit both the DPW and fire department.

However, Bartlett said, when the town revisited the option of renovating the Elm Street garage, he approached the Harris Center, which owns the land adjacent to the property. The neighboring parcels are currently under a conservation easement, Bartlett said.

“No one ever approached the Harris Center about this property,” he said. “It just took sending an email. They were very receptive”

Bartlett said his query was “well received” by Harris Center officials, and they expressed interest in a possible land swap for a parcel that’s more “in line with their vision and mission statement” from a conservation standpoint, as the size of the parcel is small from a conservation standpoint and isn’t connected to other conservation areas. The Harris Center allowed the town to do some test pits and wetlands mapping on the parcels, which Bartlett said showed there was enough space not only to build a fire station, but also potentially a police station in the future.

The Harris Center parcels amount to 3.35 acres. 

Selectwoman Barbara Miller questioned what land the town might offer in exchange, and Bartlett said he had not begun that discussion with the Harris Center, and did not think it was likely the town, the Conservation Commission and the Harris Center were likely to come to a firm agreement between now and the May 15 Town Meeting.

Selectwoman Karen Hatcher suggested Bartlett work with the Harris Center to at least draft a letter of intent or memorandum of understanding with the Harris Center regarding the proposal before Town Meeting, and the board agreed.

Retrofit the SDE building

There were few questions about the feasibility of retrofitting the former SDE offices for use as either a Department of Public Works garage or combined facility for the DPW and other departments. The property is currently listed at just under $3 million, and the cost of renovations to the building is unknown. 

Bartlett told the crowd the building has plenty of space – about 56,000 square feet – but would be a “tremendous project to take on” in terms of renovation. There are also some concerns regarding impacts of flooding from the Contoocook River, and response times if the building were used as a site for public safety facilities.

Public response favors Elm Street plan

Residents who attended the meeting seemed to universally favor the plan to renovate the current building over the other options.

Few even commented on the option to retrofit the former SDE building, with resident Loretta Laurenitis commenting that with the purchasing cost alone being nearly $3 million, it didn’t seem economically viable. Laurenitis added the Elm Street plan seemed to be the best option.

“Why would we spend $1 million more?” she asked, referencing the Water Street plan’s total cost. 

“It seems like a no-brainer,” said resident Libby Reinhardt.

Some residents of Colonial Square, who previously expressed objections to the Water Street plan due to the proximity to their neighborhood, also said they were in favor of the Elm Street plan.

The town plans to hold a second public hearing on the proposals for the DPW garage on May 7 at 7 p.m. in the Town House. The Select Board anticipates selecting a final option for recommendation at the conclusion of that meeting, which it anticipates to present on Town Meeting on May 15. Should the board decide to recommend an option other than the new construction at the Water Street location, the board plans to move to amend the amount requested in the warrant article at Town Meeting.

 

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 244 or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter @AshleySaariMLT. 


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