HOPKINTON — It's taken nearly 18 months, two town meetings and a lot of negotiating to get there, but the new highway garage is now open for business.
In late June 2012, one of the highway department's trucks was parked next to the former highway barn when it exploded, setting another truck and the barn on fire. The fire tore through the pole barn, nearly leveling it. No one was injured in the blaze, and much of the department's big equipment was saved by firefighters and employees, but the building was a total loss.
As part of the Local Government Center's risk pool, town officials assumed that the full appraised value of the building — just over $1 million — would be paid by LGC. However, LGC informed the town that the risk pool would only cover the replacement cost for the old building, which was estimated at around $500,000.
The town rejected LGC's offer, arguing that the town had been paying premiums based on the $1 million appraisal and should be reimbursed the appraised value. LGC countered that the appraised value was simply a ballpark figure used to estimate the replacement cost of a building.
While the town and LGC were negotiating, the Board of Selectmen requested a special town meeting in November 2012 in order to get construction on a new highway garage started as soon as possible. However, voters rejected the $1.3 million proposal at the special meeting, some voicing concern that without a negotiated settlement with LGC, they wouldn't know exactly how much money they were voting to pay for the garage.
The town and LGC eventually settled for $790,000, still short of the $1 million appraisal, but in March the voters put their support behind the new highway garage and construction started not long after.
On Saturday, the town held an open house at the garage, welcoming residents to see what their tax dollars paid for. In addition to the expansive new building, there are two new trucks to replace those that were burned in the fire.
Selectman Jim O'Brien said that as the building was going up, he was nervous that the building might be too big.
"I was concerned we might have overdone it," he said. "But now that it's done and the equipment is all inside, I think we've been able to give the residents of Hopkinton the building they needed."
In addition to space for equipment and storage, there is a kitchen and break room, restrooms and a shower, and office space. The garage doors were positioned to take in the sun, said O'Brien, which heats the garage nicely, and a pellet boiler provides any additional heat needed through a radiant flooring system.
"We're expecting that our heating costs in this building are going to be lower than what it cost to heat the old building because it's so efficient," O'Brien said. "We're really glad this project is finally done."