Despite being the keeper of Needham’s infrastructure, the Department of Public Works (DPW) has spent years taking a back seat to a lengthy list of other major projects. Now plans are on the table to upgrade its facilities that date back to the 1950s Eisenhower administration.
Over the past decade the town has invested heavily in its major facilities, building two fire stations, a police station, the Sunita Williams Elementary School, the Memorial Park Field House and the Rosemary Recreation Complex, and beginning renovations on the Emery Grover school administration building. The Cosgrove Building that houses offseason equipment was the only significant DPW facility to be built.
According to a 2016 study, the 63-year old main facility is not compliant with the town’s building, plumbing, mechanical or structural codes. There are multiple “operational inefficiencies” due to space constraints and inadequate storage areas, among a litany of other shortcomings.
Last week the Permanent Public Building Committee (PPBC) presented the Select Board with multiple options to upgrade the facilities at the DPW’s sprawling complex off Dedham Avenue near DeFazio Park. Constructed in 1960, the complex is home to four DPW divisions — fleet maintenance; water, sewer and drains; highway; and parks & forestry — as well as a makeshift wash bay for town vehicles. The DPW has been waiting for close to a decade to modernize those facilities.
The PPBC presented four possible options at the Sept. 12 Select Board meeting. Two of the options would use town-owned properties not currently home to DPW operations —- the former Hillside School and a property between Greendale Avenue and Route 128 known as Parcel 74.
The Select Board made it clear it had little appetite for adding either property to the DPW’s current inventory. “I’m confident in saying that Parcel 74 is out of consideration and the Hillside School version is also out,” said Select Board member Kevin Keane.
Instead, the board appears to be strongly leaning toward a long-term phased renovation of facilities at the existing 470 Dedham Ave. location, complemented by some expansion of DPW operations at the Cogswell Building adjacent to the Recycling and Transfer Station (RTS) on Central Avenue.
Preliminary estimates place the total cost in the vicinity of $65 million with a timeline that could extend beyond a decade.
The DPW facilities at the Public Services Administration Building, the RTS and the Daley Building would be essentially unaffected, although a separate study of the RTS is ongoing.
“It’s a crappy building,” said Keane of the DPW’s core facility. “It gets hard use and it doesn’t provide the service that is needed.”
Town Manager Kate Fitzpatrick said some of the operational challenges identified in 2016 were partly addressed by the construction of the Cogswell Building and by adding space for DPW use at the Memorial Park Field House, both of which opened in 2019. Still, the 470 Dedham Ave. site remains stressed.
“The site is so tight,” Fitzpatrick said, a reference to constrained traffic patterns and logistical challenges that complicate daily activities and create suboptimal working conditions.
“The wall of the building is built into a perennial stream,” Fitzpatrick said. That proximity to wetlands creates a propensity for flooding, which occurred during the Aug. 8 storm when the building was inundated with more than 6 inches of water.
DPW Director Carys Lustig said her team favors the phased plan, even though it is not expected to add meaningful square footage of operational space, would take a long time to complete and would require working amid ongoing construction.
“Sometimes it seems a situation has to become cataclysmic to get people off the dime,” said Keane.
Lustig is realistic about the town’s budgetary constraints and understands why the project may need to be stretched over an extended time to ease the impact on the town’s capital spending budget.
“We agreed that maybe we can get smaller bites at the apple,” she said. “Instead of funding one giant project, you can fund smaller projects.”
The plan is slated to be back before the Select Board at its next meeting on Tuesday. The PPBC is expected to present more detailed cost estimates and other information.
If the Select Board votes to approve, next steps would be to fine-tune the plan and seek funding for a design phase at the annual Town Meeting next May.