Waterford RTM approves $15.8 million for new municipal complex

Waterford — The Representative Town Meeting on Monday voted to approve spending up to $16 million on a new municipal complex to house the town garage and offices, pushing forward a project that has been in the works for more than a decade. 

The town plans to borrow up to $15 million to finance the bulk of the project, which includes a phased demolition of the dilapidated complex at 1000 Hartford Turnpike, environmental site remediation and construction of a new 61,780-square foot complex at the site.

The town will also use $800,000 from unassigned general fund balance to finance the project, which will create an improved garage, vehicle wash bays, maintenance bays and shops, and offices for Waterford Utilities Commission and the Department of Public Works.

The Municipal Complex Improvements Building Committee and other town boards have been reviewing and tweaking the plans for the last several months. In November, the Board of Finance and Board of Selectmen recommended that the RTM approve financing the project.

Several times in recent years, the town held off on renovation efforts as it prioritized construction on the town's schools. In the meantime, the complex has been plagued by oil leaks, safety issues and code violations that have been resolved through minor repairs.

On Monday evening, First Selectman Dan Steward said the town can begin signing project contracts in the coming weeks and will start demolition "as soon as we can."

 “We spent $230 million on schools, but we have yet to spend much on our town facilities,” Steward said, noting there’d been no major renovations at the complex since the early 1990s.

Steward said the bonding would impact the tax rate at different amounts over the next two decades, but would not increase it beyond half a mill. The town increased taxes for the 2018-19 fiscal year by .39 mill, about a $52 increase over the previous year for taxpayers with homes assessed at the town’s median value of about $132,000.

While 19 RTM members voted in favor of the project, with one abstention, several officials called for more specific breakdowns of the project’s costs. The building committee said costs could be negotiated further with the contractor. The town could also apply for state grants that could decrease the impact on taxpayers.

Board of Finance Chairman Ronald Fedor called the project costs excessive.

“The complex has been built around the wants and the needs of the people involved and hasn’t been restricted by what the town can afford,” he said. “I’m extremely concerned the cost of the project exceeds the means of the town.”

Building committee member Cheryl Larder countered that the committee had revisited multiple space needs studies and “reduced any duplicable space between public works and the utility commission.”

Finance board member Bill Sheehan said the project has lain fallow due to previous school projects that came during times when construction was cheaper.

“I would not be happy working in the environment they’re working in,” Sheehan said. “It needs to be fixed and it needs to be fixed now. When I looked at the price, I said ‘Yikes.’ But the cost is only going to go up. If we wait 20 years, we’ll look back and think it was a bargain.”

In late 2016, Glastonbury-based Anchor Engineering took over the project from a previous architect.

Town officials picked Torrington-based O&G Industries Inc. as the contractor for the project. O&G planning documents show the existing facility and operations must be maintained during demolition and construction, which will be broken into two or three phases. O&G estimated the project would take between about 21 and 25 months, but the contractor said it will work with the town to form a schedule and phasing plan that could accelerate the effort.

Previous estimates to renovate the existing structure were about $12 million, but officials said a new facility would cost roughly the same while fully removing about 8,200 cubic yards of contaminated soil from the site and providing better protection for dozens of Department of Public Works vehicles.

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