June 18, 2018
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$10.8M public works building in Saco could bring expanded ice arena

By Liz Gotthelf, Journal Tribune

SACO, Maine — City officials are proposing a new public works building and location, and the owner of the MHG Ice Centre is considering buying the current public works property as the arena plans to expand his facility.

The city has an ad hoc committee of officials from the city and Regional School Unit 23, led by City Councilor David Tripp, reviewing the possibility of moving the public works facility.

On Saturday morning, officials from the city, RSU 23 and ShuttleBus Zoom took a tour of the public works department, as well as the arena, and took a drive down Foss Road to view the transfer station, recreation fields and a 41-acre site that is being proposed for a new public works facility.

The current public works building was built in 1972 on 8 acres located off Route 112 bordering Interstate 95. Public works officials say the facility is inadequate for the current needs of the city. The vehicle bays in the garage do not have the lift capacity for large vehicles, and there is limited space to do maintenance. The garage also has a leaking roof and doors that let in water during inclement weather, officials say. Inventory space is limited and offices on the second floor are not handicapped-accessible.

The current salt shed is in need of repair, said Public Works Director Michael Bolduc, and has room for only two storms’ worth of salt.

The RSU 23 bus dispatch center, for a fleet of 35 buses, now is housed in a small modular building on the property.

The proposed new building would have taller, wider garage bays that would allow more in-house maintenance and would have radiant heat to help keep the floor dry in the winter.

Saco resident Bill Johnson said the public works department will have to continue to put very expensive Band-Aids on its building if it stays at its present location.

“This is a good investment for the future,” he said of the proposed new building.

In 2006, a bond to authorize funds for improvements at the current public works facility lost by fewer than 150 votes.

Public Works Deputy Director Patrick Fox said that when the city chose the present site, it was not considered ideal. He and Bolduc said the department needs to move to a larger location to meet the needs of the future.

“We’re at our limit,” said Bolduc.

The new site would allow “100 years of growth,” said Bolduc.

The proposed design would allow for shared space between the public works department and the RSU dispatch including conference rooms, lunch rooms and restrooms. The city has extended an invitation to ShuttleBus Zoom to use the facility, if it wants.

A new building would cost about $10.8 million. Foss Road, where the new building is being proposed, is now the site of athletic fields and the city’s transfer station. Parks and Recreation Director Joe Hirsch said the current situation creates a conflict, as unprotected piles of rubbish are near busy recreation fields. Parking is also a problem for the sports area, which sees hundreds of cars a day during playing season weekdays and more than 1,000 a day on weekends.

The proposal would move the transfer station farther down the road so the public works department and transfer station would be separated from the recreation fields. Under the proposal, an unmaintained access road from North Street, across from the Way Way store, would be developed so there would be a separate entrance to the proposed public works and transfer facilities.

The proposal would add more parking, restrooms and a concession stand to the recreation fields.

“It’s one solution for a number of problems that we’ve been grappling with for the past 10 years,” said Bolduc.

Ron Cain, co-owner of the MHG Ice Centre located at Lund Road, which is home to the Portland Junior Pirates, is looking to expand the facility and is interested in purchasing the current public works property. Cain has plans to build a second sheet of ice, with seating for about 1,000 spectators, which will be the practice and training home of the AHL Portland Pirates. Cain is also in discussions with Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps to establish a Michael Phelps Training Center and is proposing soccer fields with thoughts of a soccer academy.

Cain said he only recently became aware the city property was available and does not have any specific plans for the property yet, should a sale go through. He said the property is attractive because of its visibility from the highway.

Having the sports facility right “at the gateway of the city” is impressive, and fits into the city’s goals of economic development, said Bolduc.

City Administrator Richard Michaud said Cain has purchased a lot across the street from the MHG Ice Centre, which borders the public works property. The city also owns 8 acres of wetlands next to the 8-acre public works site that would cost about $2 million to rehabilitate and 7 acres on the other side of the wetlands. The city also owns 7 acres behind MHG Ice Centre, the former Saco Steel site, which is under environmental rehabilitation.

Mayor Mark Johnston said the city has not had the public works property assessed and does not yet know its value.

Should the city take out a bond for $10.8 million, it would cost taxpayers with a home valued at $200,000 about $89 more per year in taxes.

However, Michaud said Cain has proposed building a public works garage, which the city would lease.

To see more from the Journal Tribune, visit journaltribune.com.

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