A new public works facility in Stoughton is long overdue, say the department’s director and the committee chair.
But even as the city is moving ahead with plans to build a new public works facility on the southeast side next year, questions have surfaced about the proposed facility’s estimated cost and location.
Some alders have raised those concerns, but public works director Brett Hebert and committee chair Ald. Tom Majewski (D-3) have said the planned site for a new facility is a good one. They say the facility is outdated and unsafe, doesn’t have enough room to park the city’s vehicle fleet inside or efficiently work on them, and will never be less expensive to build than it would be now.
The existing building has 25 parking stalls for equipment with a need for 95 spaces, Hebert said.
He said preliminary building and design plans have gone through the committee level and have all been approved so far, leaving the next step to bring it before the Common Council and the general public.
“It’s definitely needed,” he said of the new facility. “As we go through the process, we’ll be having more community outreach meetings to let the public know what we’re doing. A project of this magnitude warrants a lot of community discussion.”
Majewski told the Hub most alders have never seen the inside of the facility.
The existing garage, at Fourth Street on the north bank of the Yahara River two or three blocks south of Main Street, dates back to the 1930s and ‘40s.
“Part of that building – which is a conglomeration of several – was a car dealership from 1911,” Majewski said.
The existing facility is situated in the city’s redevelopment area, and officials want to remove it to clear the way for a proposed redevelopment of the riverfront.
In anticipation of building a new facility, the city in 2013 bought 13.6 acres on County Hwy. A, close to where Racetrack Road intersects the highway, for $227,500. The site, chosen by a committee that was formed to look into planning for a new public works facility, is just east of a Stoughton Trailers property on County A.
A preliminary cost estimate in 2013 to build a new facility came in at $8.3 million. Hebert said that figure included “an escalator” to factor in construction cost increases over time, but it’s “too early in the process” to give a definitive cost estimate.
“We will be looking at all the costs to build the facility in much more detail with the next phase of the building process,” Hebert said. “If there is a lower-cost option that meets our needs, we will certainly explore those options.”
Hebert and the committee are in the process of seeking approval from council to resume work with Angus-Young and Associates, the architectural firm that did the preliminary design work in 2013.
“The next phase is to look at how the building will function logistically, put together the actual building schematic design, and also draft the construction documents to build the facility,” Hebert told the Hub. “There’s a lot of leg work this year in preparation for construction next year.”
Supporters of the project say the building is deteriorating and unsafe.
In addition to roof leaks and cracked walls, it has an antiquated heating and cooling system, lacks adequate emissions ventilation and fire protection and is generally a dismal place to work, Hebert told city officials.
“The bathroom and changing areas are either non-existent or mirror that of a horror movie,” Hebert wrote in a document he’s shared with city officials and the Hub. “We’ve had ex-military employees that have served in third-world countries that say they haven’t seen facilities this bad.”
Hebert pointed out that the current garage was not designed for its current use. He said there have been numerous accidents when vehicles are being moved around a cramped space. He also noted the staff and public parking area is in an active work area.
“Trucks are constantly pulling in and out of the garage area and maneuvering in around the parking lot area when loading trucks or simply leaving for a work assignment,” he wrote in a memo. “For safety reasons, there needs to be a separation between the general public and the active yard.”
He added there is “a dangerous blind, single-lane entrance and exit to the facility on Fourth Street. This entrance and exit serves both staff and visitor parking, as well as the only way for trucks and other equipment to come in and out of the facility.”
Majewski said the new facility “will help us be more efficient in the long run, and just the safety issues alone – I’m amazed they haven’t had any injuries.”
Probably the biggest area of concern related to building a new facility is its cost.
Ald. Paul Lawrence (D-2) is chair of the city’s Finance committee and said he’s heard from some people the building’s construction cost estimate is much too high.
“They’ve told me that commercial buildings of relatively the same size can be built for 75 or even 50 percent of that estimate,” he told the Hub. “It’s really a big garage and office building. So some people say it could be built for $4 (million) to $6 million.”
Lawrence said he’s not sure about those claims, but it’s a concern shared by many. He thinks the proposed location is also “a valid issue to bring up.”
Preliminary building plans for the facility show three separate buildings, anchored by a 58,000-square-foot garage for public works equipment, administrative office as well as the city’s fleet mechanic garage, which services all of the city’s fleet vehicles. Also included at the site would be a 20,000-square-foot cold storage building for city equipment and a 4,800-square-foot salt storage shed, and possibly a fueling station for all city fleet vehicles.
The City of New London opened a public works facility about half the size of Stoughton’s proposed facility for $3.5 million last year. Middleton opened a slightly larger facility in 2015 for $11.5 million. Cedarburg’s 63,000-square-foot public works facility opened two months ago at a cost of $8.6 million.
Also at issue is the location. Ald. Dennis Kittleson (D-1) questioned whether the site makes sense.
At a Common Council meeting in January, Kittleson said building the facility on the far southeast side of the city would require vehicles to burn more fuel and would increase travel time.
He said finding a more central location in the city would make more sense.
At the same meeting, Majewski challenged Kittleson and anyone who agreed with Kittleson to find a better site. He noted the new location would be less than a mile from the existing building.
“It would add an extra minute or two to get to the far northwest part of the city,” he said. “Also, there’s no place in a centralized location for this that’s not taking away prime real estate that could be on the tax rolls.”
Kittleson suggested looking for land in or near Business Park North, an idea that Majewski questioned.
Hebert told the Hub a public works facility shouldn’t be in the downtown area or in areas where there is prime real estate for that could be used for economic development.
“Dennis mentioned looking at the north side in the business park area, but that would take valuable land that potentially could be generating tax revenue,” he observed.
“It doesn’t really matter whether the facility is located a half-mile in one direction or another,” Hebert added. “We went through the process of looking at how long it would take to get to the northwest side of town from the southeast side, and it’s only about two minutes more than it would be from our current location. That really doesn’t impact our operation much.”
The new proposed location is less than a mile from the current location.
Lawrence said he understands Kittleson’s concern, but also sees positives to building the facility in an industrial area and opening the existing site for redevelopment.
“I don’t disagree that it’s not the absolute ideal spot, but we haven’t identified anything else at this point,” Lawrence said. “It’s not like it’s 10 miles to the other side of town. I don’t think it’s the worst location for it.”