Officials Explore Idea of Rebuilding at Current Public Works Site While Improving River Access, Amenities
By John Fitts
CANTON — While it would involve a smaller footprint than the town sought in recent referenda, town officials are exploring the idea of constructing a new public works facility at the current site, with a new access road from Route 179 and recreational improvements for the Farmington River Trail and access to the Farmington River.
Town officials, including Chief Administrative Officer Robert Skinner, Public Works Director Robert Martin and Project Administrator George M. Wallace presented the preliminary idea to the Board of Selectman on Wednesday night and will next gauge reaction from regulatory boards such as Planning and Zoning and the Inland Wetlands Watercourse agency.
The idea would be to build a two-story, nearly 15,000-square-foot main building closer to Route 179, an approximate 1,500 square-foot salt shed, while constructing the new access road, improving the softball field at the site, improving river access, adding parking for recreation and perhaps utilizing the old “horse barn” that serves as much of the current facility for public restrooms and potentially other amenities.
The preliminary project estimate is $3.8 million.
Town officials quickly acknowledged that a previous consultant had told the town rebuilding on site was not possible.
This idea, however, involves a smaller footprint and would place the building more “into the bank,” officials said. Additionally, according to officials, the town’s current consultant Fuss & O’Neill – in disagreement with a previous firm (Weston & Sampson) – feels that the requirement of “compensating” for filled “flood storage” areas could be done on site. According to the town, Fuss & O’Neill’s analysis is that it can be accomplished by deepening or widening the floodplain. Town officials said that could, in turn, help with better river access.
Additionally, the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection has told the town it could potentially build a new salt shed on site since one already exists and would be “grandfathered” from new regulations that would no longer allow one so close to the river, officials said.
In May of 2013, voters rejected a $5.4 million plan for a new facility at 325 Commerce Drive, followed by November 2014 rejection of a $4.78 million proposal for the same property.
With those two defeats, the failure of an earlier proposal to purchase land on Cherry Brook Road, and a years-long search for a better location, town officials said it was time to reconsider the current site.
“As we checked into things, we were finding that you might be able to do it,” Wallace said of the idea of building a new facility at the current site.
Additionally, the town is leery – and somewhat legally limited – on how much it can improve the current, outdated public works facility, Skinner said.
On Wednesday, selectmen were generally in favor of at pursuing the idea further.
“I think it is a really good attempt at a comprise that address a lot of the town’s concerns with the last couple of proposals,” selectman Beth Kandrysawtz said.
“I think it shows the taxpayers some sensibility on our part and trying to work with property we already have,” first selectman Leslee Hill said.
On Wednesday three members of the Permanent Municipal Building Committee, which has worked for numerous years on the garage issue, were in attendance and expressed some concerns.
Peter Reynolds, who chairs that committee, said the town should look carefully at a 2007 report by Weston and Sampson that detailed a host of problems at the current site.
He also raised the question as to whether the town could compromise too much with this idea.
“It’s a worthwhile, meaningful, long-term investment,” he said. “It’s like building a school – in the sense that it should be a 50- to 100-year investment. For that reason, I would want to look carefully at what we’re looking at not doing to do something?”
PMBC member David Madigan said he was “torn.” He said he agrees with not spending any money on the current facility and appreciated the creativity of the plan but questioned whether the town would be giving up too much, both in terms of the facility and compromising recreation potential. He also alluded to some of the more contentious controversy in past proposals.
“I think this is kind of once in a generation opportunity to do something right down by the river there,” he said. “I feel that we’re acquiescing to the propaganda campaign that was developed by some really self-serving activists in the last campaign.”
Skinner acknowledged that there were some hurdles, including the town’s own Plan of Conservation and Development, which over several editions, has recommended moving the facility elsewhere.
Selectmen Tom Sevigny said he was happy to see recreational improvements in the plans. In addition to additional parking and river access, the new access road would eliminate the problem of the current access road also being part of the Farmington River Trail.
“The fact that it’s improving the recreation there is a big plus for me,” he said.
Selectman Larry Minichiello said the garage issue has “probably” been the town’s most contentious issue in years. He said he voted against other projects but not as any member of any group.
He said the idea of telling people that building on the site, when officials previously said it couldn’t be done, could cause some distrust of government. However, he also felt the idea offers a good compromise. Minichiello said
“I think this idea is tremendous,” he said.
Selectman William Canny also said he agreed with Madigan that there was misrepresentation of other projects but also felt the price was simply too high for many.
“I think there were some people in town who just didn’t want to spend over 5 million dollars,” he said.
Hill also felt the project would still be a plus for the facility and recreation.
“It still improves the recreational area that is there now,” she said. “Is it anyone’s ideal answer? No (but) it improves everything.”
Before moving forward with more formal plans, officials plan to approach land-use agencies to gauge their response.
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