Highway commissioner cites inadequate space
By Robert Cloud
When a snowstorm hits Waupaca County overnight, nearly 40 highway crews hit the road.
They begin arriving at the county facility in Waupaca at 2:30 a.m. It’s dark and the snow may still be falling.
Some of the drivers must climb onto their trucks to clear off the snow because there is not enough room to park all the vehicles in the county’s 80-year-old highway maintenance plant.
“Trucks are twice as long as they were when the building was constructed,” said Waupaca County Highway Commissioner Casey Beyersdorf.
In the 1930s when the county built its current maintenance facility, most plows were mounted to single-axle trucks.
Today, the fleet includes tandem quad-axle trucks with wings, as well as plows, for removing snow from wider highways.
Because some trucks are parked outdoors overnight in sub-freezing temperatures, their engines must be kept running.
“We have to keep the trucks running all night long because when it freezes the diesel gels up,” Beyersdorf said.
While some trucks are parked outside, the remaining trucks are crammed tightly into the facility. Their plows are stored outside.
Crews have to drive out of the building into the yard before they can mount the plows to their trucks.
“I’ll have to wait for four or five trucks to pull out before I can leave,” said Justin Bannach, a snowplow driver and fabricator for the county highway department.
“It’s dark and this is on a downhill grade, so you have to be careful when you hook your plow,” Bannach said.
Sometimes, a truck will need to be pulled a few feet out of the snow before the driver can get on the road.
The bay for changing oil is not large enough for the newer trucks.
“During the winter, you leave the garage door open because the back of the trucks don’t fit in the bay,” Beyersdorf said.
Walking around the Waupaca facility, Beyersdorf noted the aging exterior.
“The mortar is falling off the brick,” he said. “We’re constantly tuck pointing it year after year.”
He said Waupaca County leads the state in having the least amount of space for salt storage.
“We don’t have enough space for storing salt,” Beyersdorf said. “Every other storm, we’re calling for more salt. As fast as it comes in, it’s going out onto the roads.”
Waupaca County has no separate shed for storing its sand.
“We’re tarping our sand piles,” Beyersdorf said.
The facility is located in a residential area and adjacent to the Waupaca River.
That means the county has no space on its property to add to its main building or build new sheds.
Beyersdorf continues to tick off problems with the old building.
Remodeling will require a major asbestos abatement project. The heating and ventilation systems are outdated and inefficient. There are not enough repair and fabrication bays, so the mechanics have to pull the trucks out into the parking space to work on them.
The repair bays are a critical component of the facility.
We assemble all our own trucks,” Beyersdorf said. “We purchase the chassis separate from the plow equipment and separate from the box. We do that so in the event we need to fix a truck, we know how it was put together.”
Currently, county fabricators are installing a water tank from one truck to the chassis of another, and adding two more axles to the chassis.
Beyersdorf said the county saves about $15,000 to $20,000 per truck by assembling it in house.
More space for modern equipment
At an estimated cost of $27.6 million, the proposed new facility is designed to solve many of the efficiency problems caused by the old building.
The new building includes a 38,000-square-foot garage with space to park 24 heavy vehicles, 15 medium vehicles and 27 light vehicles.
The garage has three rows of angled parking and one row of 90-degree parking. There are two overhead doors on each side of the garage so the trucks will be able to pull in and out of the building instead of parking one in front of another.
The county is considering in-floor thermal heating in the parking, storage and repair areas of the new facility.
Beyersdorf said the proposed system would “keep the temperature at a level where the equipment is not going to freeze but it’s not warm enough to take off your jacket.”
Preliminary plans also include 3,540 square feet for a fabrication shop with three welding bays.
One bay would be designated for long-term projects, such as assembling a truck, while the other two bays would be used for short-term projects and immediate repairs.
The new facility would also have an 8,400-square-foot repair shop with seven repair bays for highway equipment and two repair bays for the county’s squad cars.
County highway mechanics are also responsible for maintaining about 60 squad cars for the sheriff’s office.
An automated wash bay is another feature of the proposed facility.
Whenever the trucks return from plowing the roads, the salt must be washed off to avoid rust.
The state Department of Transportation reimburses counties for washing their trucks.
Beyersdorf noted it can take up to an hour to wait in line then to wash a truck.
The automated wash is expected to cut down waiting and washing time to about 15 minutes.
While the current highway plant has one overhead crane, the proposed facility will have three overhead cranes for moving plows and other heavy equipment.
Another issue with the existing facility is the administrative offices are in a separate building from the operations, maintenance and parking facility.
The administrative office building was constructed in 1965.
There is no lunchroom in either building, no showers for the workers and the locker room shares space with storage for parts and tires.
There is no women’s restroom in the maintenance plant, so female staff have to cross the street to the office to use their restroom.
The proposed facility would include restrooms, locker rooms and showers for both men and women.
It would also include more office and document-storage space.
A 2,925-square-foot public lobby is planned to provide space for a vestibule, a conference room for highway committee meetings, public restrooms and seating.
Beyersdorf said highway committee meetings can draw up to 20 people when they want to learn about specific projects in their communities. The existing conference room does not always provide enough space for the public.
The site plan also calls for 35,000-square-feet of unheated, or “cold,” storage for vehicle parts, traffic cones, tires and other items that need to be protected from the rain and sun, but do not need to be in a warmer environment.
CORRECTION: The article originally indicated there were no overhead cranes in the existing facility. There is one overhead crane.