Project 25 years in the making
By Scott Bellile
The new headquarters for the city of New London’s parks, streets and facilities crews is close to opening.
The city celebrated the completion of a 40,000-square foot city garage on Nov. 16 with a ribbon cutting. The earthwork began in October 2015 and construction crews started building this past April.
City-owned vehicles from pickups to leaf blowers to snowplows will be stored inside the garage, located on West Wolf River Avenue between the wastewater treatment facility and the public sledding hill. There are offices within and space for cleaning and repairing vehicles.
“It’s going to take a while for us to move in,” New London Mayor Gary Henke told visitors following a tour of the facility. “Probably three, four months to get everything moved over in position where we can get totally moved out of the other building.”
The other building, which is located about a block east, will be razed and left as vacant land until the city council determines a plan. The council approved its demolition in July. Whether it will become public park space or private enterprise is to be determined.
Advantages of new garage
City departments are moving out of the old 21,000-square foot garage because the accommodations are inefficient by today’s standards.
Photographs posted on walls throughout the new garage during last week’s tour showed parts of the old facility’s interior are deteriorating.
Some rooms in the old garage are crowded with equipment to the point that when workers walk into a room, they must rearrange it all to access what they need to use. This decreases productivity.
“If you’ve been in the old facility, you’ve noticed we’re running out of space desperately,” New London Parks and Recreation Director Chad Hoerth told the crowd.
“If you needed to find anything, you had to pretty much paw your way through a stack of stuff,” Henke added. “Pretty inefficient.”
Now there will be more space for storage, but workers won’t let it clutter up again.
“Our philosophy’s going to kind of be, if you haven’t used it in a few years, let’s get rid of it. You probably aren’t going to use it again,” Henke said.
The overcrowding at the old facility also means not every city vehicle can park inside there. Harsh weather deteriorates vehicles quicker, costing taxpayers money.
Besides protecting vehicles from the elements, the new facility is built for easier climate control. The old building has about 22 garage doors. The new one reduces that number to two garage doors to the main parking area. This will drop energy costs.
“You’re not spreading cold air through the whole place,” Henke said of the new garage on cold days. “In the old garage, when they’d get ready to go to work in the morning, you’ve got eight doors open at one time. It took quite a bit of time to heat the building up.”
Of note, the new garage finally has a women’s restroom and restrooms with handicap accessibility. The city’s year-round parks and streets crews currently don’t have women, but women have been part of the seasonal parks staff in past summers.
History of the project
The old city garage was built in 1947. Some years later, it was expanded.
Discussions about the need for new garage began 25 years ago, Henke said.
New London Public Works Director Jeff Bodoh said Don Allen, former chairman of the Board of Public Works, had a new garage on his to-do list since the early 1990s. The site the city ultimately chose was one of three Allen proposed, Bodoh said.
Four waves of new city garage discussions happened during Bodoh’s 17 years with the city: in 2001, 2004-2005, 2007, and 2012, he said. 2012 was around the time the city began eying the 2016 retirement of the TIF district on the Northeast Industrial Park. The timing appeared to be right, so a committee formed around the issue and Keller Builds was hired to do a study.
The soil upon which the new garage was built used to house a landfill. Rich Penterman, on-site supervisor for Keller Builds, said crews unearthed materials like trees and tires during construction of the new garage.
The soil wasn’t the most fit for excavation. The city used its entire contingency fund of about $400,000 to cover problems along the way.
Penterman said Keller knew going into the project to expect “a few hiccups,” so the company was prepared to remediate the soils.
“Everything went good,” Peterman said. “It was a darn good experience and it’s good to see the final product.”
Despite some speedbumps during construction, the project came in under budget.
A change order approved by the city council on Nov. 7 had the cost at $3.2 million. This was below the original estimate of $3.8 million, Henke said. He predicted the city has another $100,000 worth of equipment to purchase for the building yet.
“By the time we’re all done, we’ll be well under $3.5 [million], so we came in with very good prices,” Henke said. “The bids came in great. I couldn’t compliment Keller enough for how good they were to work with on this whole project. They’ve been really great.”
Because the project was under budget anyway, the city added an enclosed cold storage area to the south side for $75,000 that wasn’t planned.
“By the time you get to the actual job site with the plans, there’s always stuff that has to be changed,” Henke said of the construction process. “So it’s worked out really well so far. It should service for a lot of years. I’m sure I’ll be beyond the home before we need to add on.”