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March 20. 2014 8:53PM

Merrimack voters to consider funding for new highway garage

MERRIMACK — Next month, local voters will be asked to approve a $3.3 million bond for a new highway garage and improvements to the existing garage facility.

Local residents are being encouraged to tour the Public Works Department garage from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday to see first-hand the current building conditions.

Adam Jacobs, operations manager for the Department of Public Works, highlighted several reasons for a new garage during the town’s recent deliberative session.

The garage, housed at 80 Turkey Hill Rd., was built in 1973, but was modified in the mid-80s, according to Jacobs. Including a mezzanine and welding bay, the highway facility is nearly 11,500 square feet.

“One of the main issues that we have with the current space is the amount of headroom and height inside the building itself,” said Jacobs, explaining the low ceilings and small bay doors require some vehicles to be stationed outside if they need to be placed on a lift for mechanical or maintenance work.

Problems at the current site include an aging structure, lack of female locker-room area, cramped highway bays, limited headspace and other overcrowding problems, he said.

Last year, a professional design firm was hired to inspect the space and complete a needs assessment. Its recommendation was for a new, 55,000 square foot garage at a cost of nearly $9 million.

“The prices were high,” Jacobs said of the initial estimates.

A major project of that scale would not be feasible in Merrimack, according to Jacobs, who said a committee was then formed to study the matter further and establish more reasonable cost projections. The committee eventually recommended a smaller building of about 14,000 square feet at a price-tag of about $2.8 million.

The newly proposed garage would house highway personnel and the maintenance bays, he said. In addition, the existing facility would be renovated for limited storage use and staging of the core highway fleet at a cost of about $500,000.

The total project being recommended is $3.3 million, and would offer a total of 22,500 square feet of space, added Jacobs.

About 27 employees work at the site, which is used to maintain more than 100 town vehicles for the police department, fire department, community development, public works and parks and recreation.

Some residents say they support the need for a new garage, but question the length of the recommended 25-year bond and the estimated $500,000 to refurbish the existing garage for storage.

Stan Heinrich, a local resident, said he agreed there is a need for a new garage, but suggested a shorter bond term to save on interest costs.

“I certainly think we are long overdue,” Carol Lang said of the dated highway facility. While she also supports the concept, Lang said $500,000 to convert the existing garage into a storage facility seemed excessive.

Councilor Dan Dwyer disagreed, maintaining the cost is actually quite affordable, adding a 25-year bond is typical for municipal projects.

Finance Director Paul Micali echoed those sentiments, explaining the town currently has a bond that will be paid in three years. The newly proposed bond -- if approved by voters -- would essentially carry out that bond for an extra 22 years without any tax increase to local residents.

Garage tours are open to the public from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at the highway facility, 80 Turkey Hill Rd.

Election Day is April 8 in Merrimack. Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at James Mastricola Upper Elementary School, 26 Baboosic Lake Road.

khoughton@newstote.com


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