Rockland Public Works plans new buildings

Posted March 24, 2010, at 10:27 p.m.

ROCKLAND, Maine — The people who work in the nearly 60-year-old Public Works Building on Burrows Street want two new buildings that would cost city taxpayers about $2 million.

Public Works Director Greg Blackwater said Wednesday he is developing a plan he hopes to put before voters on November’s ballot.

Although it is in the beginning stages, Blackwater’s basic plan includes demolishing the current 60-by-120-foot Public Works Building and erecting a new 100-by-200-foot metal building and a separate 70-by-130-foot salt and sand shed.

Voters rejected a similar proposal three years ago, but Blackwater hopes his latest proposal, which is $300,000 cheaper than his 2007 plan, will find favor.

The two new buildings would remain on land Public Works already occupies. The earlier proposal voters rejected asked that the buildings be on the town’s transfer station land.

Some concerns about the current building include energy inefficiencies, lack of compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, ventilation not up to code, and an absence of fire alarms or a sprinkler system. Becky Dinsmore, a light equipment operator, said the latter deficiencies are particularly worrisome because the building’s 60-year-old boiler has seen better days.

“It spits black smoke,” she said.

Blackwell said the new buildings could save Rockland residents money in a few ways. The current green metal building has holes in it, making it energy-inefficient.

“You can watch the snow blow in,” Blackwell said, pointing to a hole in the wall under the building’s circuit breakers. Because the building is so old, the manufacturer no longer makes the metal panels that could replace those with problems such as holes, dents and broken exterior siding panel. Yellow bubbles of expandable foam peek through the panels where Blackwell and his team tried to patch the holes.

Blackwell is looking into the possibility of heating the new buildings with geothermal energy to save residents money in the long run, which is a change from the current oil-heated building.

Equipment deterioration would slow if the plows and trucks could be stored inside instead of gathering rust in yard, Blackwell said. The Public Works Building can hold a few vehicles, but the majority of them must be stored outside.

Public Works sand also is stored without shelter, which causes it to freeze and clump. This can jam the sanding equipment and lead to roads not being cleared as efficiently, he said.

“You get rain and snow and everything else. It’s miserable to work with,” Blackwell said of the wet sand still piled outside his building.

When plowing vehicles are stored inside, the city can respond to storms faster because they already are warmed up and workers do not have to scrape them off for the storm. For this reason, when it starts to get cold, drivers try to pack the trucks inside the current facility “like sardines,” one worker said.

“You have got to juggle,” Blackwell said. “Only one can go out at a time. We pack as much as we can in here before a storm so there are quicker response times.”

The lack of space also causes safety hazards.

To get to his truck, heavy equipment operator Dickie Tolman has to climb over his plow and duck under other equipment to get into the cab. Once he gets in there, sometimes he can’t easily get his truck out.

“I feel safe working here, but you have to be careful. If we had enough bays, you wouldn’t have to move 10 trucks to get one out,” Tolman said.

“If he [falls] down, we won’t know until the next person shows up 20 minutes later,” his co-worker, Dinsmore, said as they sat in a mechanic’s bay during their break because the break room can’t fit all the employees.

The plan has a way to go before it could reach a voter ballot. Blackwell is considering hiring an expert to help with the possible geothermal planning; the Rockland Planning Board has to see the plans; and the City Council is scheduled to look at the proposal in May.

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