Public Works settles into new home

17 years ago

    PRESQUE ISLE, Maine – The city’s Public Works Department hosted a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Saturday, July 21, to mark the completion of a long-awaited move into the department’s new home on Missile Street.     Plans began formulating about eight years ago to find a new home for the department – one large enough to house the many pieces of equipment the staff (15 full-time and two part-time seasonal this summer for a downtown project) uses year-round to maintain area roads and streets. Once City Council approved the use of a hangar on Missile Street for the department’s use, contractors began the work of renovating the structure to suit the city’s needs – an expensive but much-needed upgrade. The building is owned by the city of Presque Isle.
“The construction contract was a little over $2 million. Added to that were the architect and engineering fees and a budget of $50,000 for new equipment such as a truck lift and washer bay equipment,” said Larry Clark, executive director of the Presque Isle Industrial Council.
Clark worked closely with Gerry James, director of Public Works, to determine what type of structure would best suit the needs of the department, if there was anything already in existence within the city that could be used and what the cost of such a move would be. Using an existing facility rather than constructing a new one saved taxpayers a considerable amount of money, said Clark.
“This facility (hangar) was being used for storage by the city. It’s the perfect size to store equipment and provide staff with office space, a break room, sign room and more. To build new would have involved a lot more money than working with an existing structure,” said Clark.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Congressman Michael Michaud (D-Maine) joined city officials for the Saturday ceremony.
“This project is an outstanding example of what can be accomplished when government at all levels and citizens work together for a common goal,” said Collins. “I especially commend the leaders of the city of Presque Isle. You saw a need and, in this former missile hangar, an opportunity. You carried this project out with ingenuity and care, and – given that you first conceived this project eight years ago – considerable determination and patience.”
Collins said she was pleased to be able to help secure $700,000 in federal funds for the project.
“Whenever I advocate for federal funding for my state, I do so confidant that those resources will be  used wisely, efficiently and to the maximum public benefit. You have shown that my confidence is well-placed,” said Collins.
Collins noted that public officials – whether at the Capitol or City Hall – “have an obligation to see that public investments are protected and properly cared for.”
“The heavy toll our rugged Aroostook County winters were taking on your snow-removal equipment not only led to high maintenance costs and accelerated deterioration, but also could jeopardize public safety during a time of year when travel can be difficult under even the best conditions,” said Collins.
Since Presque Isle is known as the ‘hub of Aroostook,’ Collins indicated it was especially important to guarantee area roads and streets remained accessible, regardless of the weather. Having a facility that allows for the storage of equipment needed to maintain roads is of critical importance to the local economy.
“Presque Isle is a major center of commerce and transportation in northern Maine. With UMPI, NMCC and TAMC, your population swells to nearly 25,000 during the day. This requires an enhanced level of service and safety that few rural communities area called up to match. With your equipment better able to respond to emergencies, those who live, work, learn and receive vital medical care here will have the protection they need,” said Collins.
James said it was not unusual for his staff to spend several minutes or even hours trying to thaw out equipment in the winter, often at the worst possible time.
“I’ve seen them spend anywhere from 45 minutes to a couple hours or more trying to thaw hydraulic lines to get equipment out on the roads. When you have a major snowstorm, it’s critical to get the roads open as quickly as possible. With the new facility, machines will be stored inside in a heated bay, so instead of taking nearly an hour to get on the road, it should only take about five minutes and they’re ready,” said James.
Michaud said the transformation of the former hangar served as “a major improvement for the city of Presque Isle’s storage facilities,” providing a place to store valuable equipment and prolonging its life.
“Instead of leaving over $1 million of vital equipment outside during the winter, this new facility will protect the equipment and improve efficiency for the Public Works Department,” said Michaud, “helping the whole community of Presque Isle.”
Michaud said now the department would have the opportunity to provide a heightened level of service to everyone.
“I believe that it is very important to invest in infrastructure and public works here in Maine. We need to be focusing on the basic infrastructure that makes our communities function and helps our economy grow,” he said.
To do that, Michaud said it was very important that Maine gets its fair share of federal investment, “and within Maine, I want to make sure that the County and all of our more rural areas are getting their fair share as well.”
Michaud said he would continue to work hard in Congress to ensure that “the city of Presque Isle and all of Aroostook County have opportunities to invest and grow.”
“By working together, we can continue to expand opportunities here n Maine – and no one must be left behind,” said Michaud. “Thank you for having me with you today, and I look forward to being together for many investments here in the years to come.”
James said without the funding, none of this would have been possible.
“Without it, we wouldn’t have this facility. Everything is state-of-the-art. We worked with Efficiency Maine to design the best heating system,” said James.
Clark said although the floor in the hangar was sound, it was removed to allow for the installation of proper drainage.
“We had to replace all the floors. Some areas were 12 inches thick and all level – that’s the way the military designed it. But we had to remove it to install floor drains,” said Clark.
James added work was done with a great deal of input from the DEP and EPA.
While staff still has a bit more to move into their new home, work is effectively being performed from the Missile Street location. The Industrial Council now has the job of finding a new tenant for the PW’s former home.  The larger structure will serve the city’s needs for years to come.
“The building is 210 feet long by 60 feet wide – about twice the size of the old facility. We also still have about 100 feet beyond the maintenance bay that provides the option of expansion if need be in the future,” said Clark. “What a difference this makes to have equipment in one place and under cover.”
In addition to the main building, a storage unit in back has been constructed and will be used for salt storage.
“That structure will hold approximately 2,000 tons (of salt),” said James.
Clark said he’s pleased with the results.
“We kept it within budget and actually completed it about three weeks ahead of schedule,” said Clark.
City officials hope to show off the new digs to the public in the fall.
“We’d like to have an open house, give folks an opportunity to see the new facility up close,” said City Manager Tom Stevens. “A date hasn’t been selected at this point but it will probably be sometime this fall.”