The Middletown Avenue building that houses the city’s snow plows, street sweeping trucks and most public works staffers is crumbling under years of sustained exposure to salt, propped up by an “aluminum forest” of temporary support beams, and desperately in need of a $10 million comprehensive redesign and rehabilitation.
So argued Department of Public Works (DPW) Director Jeff Pescosolido and City Engineer Giovanni Zinn Monday night at a Board of Alders Finance Committee workshop on the mayor’s proposed $547.1 million operating budget and $79.6 million capital budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1. The workshop was held in the Aldermanic Chambers on the second floor of City Hall.
The mayor’s proposed budget includes $13.2 million in capital funds for DPW. $10 million of that sum is dedicated to facility upgrades, repairs and modifications for DPW’s headquarters at 34 Middletown Ave, a three-story garage and office space known as the Public Works Central Services Facility.
Built in 1957, the 53,000-square-foot building consists of three stories: a repair garage, a shared parking garage and office space, and a storage garage. Pescosolido said that the facility houses around 75 DPW staffers and around 35 to 40 DPW vehicles on a daily basis. The department’s 15 garbage trucks are stored and maintained at a different facility a little further up Middletown Avenue.
“For the success of DPW, we have to remain under one roof,” Pescosolido told the alders on Monday night.
He said that the centralization of the majority of the department’s staff, trucks and equipment at the facility on Middletown Avenue allowed for a critical level of communication and coordination within DPW during storm emergencies.
“Having all our divisions under one roof is critical towards the success of our operations and the delivery of our services to the public,” he said.
Fr the past 61 years, the three-story concrete building has suffered under the withering effects of salt that is carried into and spread throughout the garages by trucks returning from snow storm duty, Zinn explained. He said that frequent visitors to the site refer to the garage as an “aluminum forest” because of all of the support beams that have been erected over the years to prop up the garage’s crumbling foundation.
He said that the building was quite a sturdy and durable construction when it was first built in the mid-1950s. But fluoride from the salt has gotten into the concrete and has deteriorated the steel reinforcing that is inside the concrete slabs of the floors.
“The structural integrity of the floor is compromised,” he said. “No matter how many supports you have beneath it, the floors won’t be able to sustain the heavy equipment that is used on a daily basis.”
Zinn said that major repairs were required to shore up the building for future use as a vehicle storage and repair site. The top-level and mid-level garage floors need to be cut out and replaced, as does one of the walls in the lower-level garage that has worn away under decades of contact with a pile of salt.
He also said that the hydrodemolition, or extremely high-pressure water jets, that will be used for the demolition of the necessary parts of the facility will destroy all the electrical, mechanical and plumbing systems of the building, so the city will have to rewire the building and install brand new heating systems and plumbing.
“You have to do the work in a very particular sequence so as not to destabilize the building,” Zinn said as he explained why the $10 million capital fund request for the project was all scheduled for next fiscal year. “You can’t really go in there and cut out the floor for two floors and expect the building to stand.”
He said that the city hopes to begin construction in the spring of 2019, and to have at least part of the facility operational by the winter of 2019.
Pescosolido told the alders that he and Zinn were still in the investigation, concept and schematic design phases of the project. They said that they would have a better sense of how exactly each dollar will be spent as they approach the design development, bid, and construction administration stages later this year and early next year.
Hill Alder Dave Reyes asked if DPW staff will need to relocate to temporary trailers on site. He also asked about where the trucks currently stored at the facility will be located during construction.
“As we get closer, we’ll continue to evolve those plans,” Zinn said. He said that hydrodemolition can produce upwards of 130 decibels of noise, and will therefore render the office space at the facility way too loud for administrative use.
Pescosolido said that he is currently looking into different city-owned properties where the snow plows and street sweeping trucks can be stored and regularly repaired.
“Fleet repair is a concern,” he said. He said that it was a regulated activity, and not just any side is zoned to allow for the storage and repair of the types of heavy duty vehicles owned by DPW.
Hill Alder Dolores Colon asked how potential trade wars with China and a subsequent rise in steel costs will affect the project’s $10 million budget.
“Steel is a little less significant a portion of the cost of this building,” Zinn said, as the building is primarily concrete. He said that the primary cost driver for this project is paying for the labor that will go into the demolition and construction.
He also said that he and Pescosolido had looked into ditching the current site and finding somewhere new to build a new DPW facility, but that those costs wound up being higher than staying put and fixing what the city already had.
“The facility does work where it is now,” Zinn said. “It just needs to have three floors instead of 1.5, which is pretty much what’s usable at this point.”
Hill Health Plans Move To Q House
Zinn also announced during his presentation of the Engineering Department’s proposed budget on Monday night that the Cornell Scott – Hill Health Center on Dixwell Avenue now plans to move its entire operations from their current offices at 226 Dixwell Ave. into the new community Q house once that project is built next fiscal year.
Initially, he said, Hill Health planned to lease a little over 3,000 square-feet of space in the new community center. Now it wants to lease over 13,000 square-feet of space, and move all, not part, of its community health center services into the new Q house. Zinn said the health center’s increased footprint at the new Q house accounts for most of his department’s $3 million capital fund budget request for the Q house line item.
He told the alders that, unlike the city, non-profits like Hill Health have trouble raising money for capital construction projects, but have a relatively easy time collecting and distributing cash on hand for general operations.
Therefore, Hill Health’s lease with the Q house will be structured in such a way that the medical center will pay off the corresponding increase to the city’s capital budget through regular payments over the duration of its lease.
The Board of Alders must approve a final version of the budget by the first week of June.
The next budget workshop, during which the Finance Committee will interview department heads about their respective allocations in the mayor’s proposed budget, is on Thursday, April 19, at 6 p.m. in the Aldermanic Chambers on the second floor of City Hall.