City proposes new facility for Public Works

City hopes to consolidate its operations with $10 million construction project

Posted: Thursday, August 31, 2006

The city is considering a $9.1 million to $10.8 million construction project that would consolidate its Public Works Department.

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"One of the issues driving this is to consolidate our operations to the point where we can save some money," Public Works Director Joe Buck said.

The 22,000- to 24,000-square-foot building would go on city-owned land next to the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities building on Glacier Highway north of Switzer Creek.

The city is operating maintenance shops in the Mendenhall Valley, Lemon Creek and downtown.

Public Works has been interested in modifying or replacing its downtown maintenance shop since about 1999, because the nearly 60-year-old building is cramped and dilapidated, Streets Superintendent Mike Scott said.

"Right now we're competing for space and it makes life really difficult," he said.

The new facility most likely would be funded by a temporary sales tax or a bond issue that would need voter approval, Buck said.

"The Assembly has got to make a decision on how to fund the project and when," he said. "That's a political timing issue, so I can't really say when."

Buck presented the department's proposal to the Assembly Committee of the Whole earlier this month and discussed the inadequacies of the city's present facilities.

Besides saving money, the new building would increase security and provide better service for the community, he said.

If the department was consolidated into one facility it would decrease costs by requiring less coordination time among the different facilities, would extend the life of vehicles and equipment through better storage, and provide more space for maintenance workers to complete their tasks in a more effective and timely manner, Buck said.

The facility would potentially have increased storage capabilities, larger maintenance areas, covered and heated parking areas for city vehicles, and training and administration areas, Buck said.

The downtown maintenance shop also has some significant safety and security issues because of its location underneath the Douglas Bridge. One of the city's two fuel stations for its vehicles is located behind the shop and could be potentially hazardous to the bridge if an accident were to occur, Scott said.

"We have about 15,000 gallons of fuel sitting within 20 feet of the bridge," he said. "It's a real concern."

The fuel station has been particularly worrisome for Public Works during the Fourth of July celebrations, Scott said.

"We've actually had people shooting fireworks off the top of the fuel depot," he said. "We've since fenced it."

There have also been recent break-ins and thefts occurring at the downtown shop, including 16 tires valued at more than $2,000.

Public Works has come to an impasse trying to modify the existing downtown maintenance shop because it does not meet the city's waterfront plan or the areawide transportation plan, Scott said. The 1.8 acres of city land assessed at $3.1 million could be used for a park or the beginning of the city's proposed sea walk, he said.

"When that property becomes available the city will probably have a lot of fun deciding what to do with it," Scott said.

There are also other opportunities to expand the city's services by restructuring the Public Works facilities, Buck said. The Recycling/Housing Hazardous Waste facility in Lemon Creek has outgrown its space and could be relocated to the Mendenhall Valley for better service, he added.

Buck said the Lemon Creek shop and the Recycling/Housing Hazardous Waste facility could potentially be sold off for commercial development, potentially to the neighboring Alaskan Brewing Co., which has already expressed its desire to expand.

A public road is also considered in the plan that could open up private land near the site for housing and would increase parking for the Heintzelman Ridge Trail.

With the potential future expansion of north Douglas and other areas in the city, Public Works will have to grow to meet the needs of the community, Buck said.

"We're looking long-term for Public Works so we're also trying to take into account the growth of the community," he said.

Getting the community to back a new consolidated Public Works facility may be difficult because it is not a very exciting project like a new swimming pool, but it's a project that is vital to the community, Buck said.

"One of the directives we gave our consultants early on in this is to keep it cheap," he said. "We're not building the Taj Mahal. It just needs to be very, very practical."

Money already has been put aside for the site development, which could potentially begin as early as next year, Scott said. If all the cards played to the city's favor then construction could begin as early as 2008, he said.

"There's a bunch of real positive aspects to this project," Scott said. "Money is the issue."

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