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Fairmont plans $10M public works building

FAIRMONT — A new public works building for the city of Fairmont is on the agenda for construction this year, but the proposed $10 million project has been under development for several years.

The existing building at 411 E. Margaret St. has served the city for more than 50 years, at least parts of it have. The street department section, the east portion of the building, was built in 1967. The west portion housing the parks department was added in 1975. Sometime in the early 1980s, the two buildings were joined together by a couple of walls and a roof, an area that now encompasses the mechanics shop.

In 2014, the city had a feasibility study done in hopes that an extensive renovation and expansion of the facility, estimated at $5 million, would allow for its continued use. Then an unscheduled inspection by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in 2015 revealed a plethora of health and safety concerns to add to the severe lack of space.

“When we looked at the vehicle storage that we needed, that’s when the vehicle garage got a lot bigger than was originally proposed in the feasibility plan,” said Troy Nemmers, city engineer/public works director. “We looked at the existing building and what it would take to get a better functioning building. We hired an architect in 2018 to a more detailed analysis, and we looked at the option of another site.”

The site of the proposed building, directly east of the existing facility, is easily identifiable by the mound of material excavated from the 2018 Margaret Street reconstruction. The floor plan has been drawn, and Nemmers plans to meet with the architects this week to begin finalizing details and bidding specifications.

“In the best-case scenario, you could get it done in roughly six months, but based on the last couple of summers, that would be a challenge,” said Nemmers, referring to recent construction seasons that logged more than half the work days as rain days.

With 57,000 square feet, the new building would eclipse the existing one at 21,000 square feet. The $10 million price tag has raised eyebrows, but there will be no frills or wasted space in the pre-engineered metal building.

“This is no Taj Mahal. Even with a new building design, it’s at the bare minimum. We’re making it fit with what we have right now,” said Nick Lardy, street and parks department superintendent.

His departments utilize 32 vehicles during the winter. Parking those big plows and sand trucks indoors ensures they will start even in the most inclement weather when they are needed most, and keeping them out of the elements help preserve their useful life.

“Most of the vehicles we replace are 20 or 30 years old,” Nemmers said.

“We’ve got a ’79 road grader and an ’84 road grader, and one of our plow trucks is an ’83, and it’s still in service yet,” Lardy said.

Logic would dictate that if you had millions of dollars in equipment, you would want that equipment sheltered and secure. Not doing so would be the equivalent of parking a $40,000 vehicle on the street and storing garbage cans, lawn chairs and bicycles in a residential garage.

The new building’s drive-thru design allows for parking stalls for all 32 vehicles and a manual wash bay, the only “extra” in the plans. Adding the wash bay bumps the cost up about $300,000, but the feature would eliminate having to wash vehicles down in the building’s drive-thru.

“It’s pretty valuable when you’re plowing streets and working in the mud,” Nemmers said. “It gives us a space so you’re not spraying all the vehicles around you.”

Adequate indoor parking space and a wash bay constitute a couple of upgrades, but the safety factors of a new facility would be immeasurable, and it might provide a warmer working atmosphere than the current 58 degrees.

“There’s several systems in the building that are very deficient,” Lardy said. “Ventilation is a huge issue. It’s pretty much non-existent. Our lighting system is obsolete. Our heating system is from the early 1980s, and there’s no parts available. When you get a good northwest wind, you can feel it.

“Another bad system is the electrical system. The entire circuitry is outdated, and it’s been ‘daisy-chained’ all around. That needs some definite upgrades.”

The mechanics shop, crunched in between the street side and park side, provides a work space for two mechanics. The shop has a 14-foot overhead door, an opening too short for the “sewer sucker,” which describes what the equipment does, and for two of the city’s fire trucks. Maintenance on these vehicles must be done outside, regardless of the weather.

“The mechanics maintain every vehicle the city has,” said Nemmers, estimating that to be about 80 vehicles, anything the city insures or depreciates.

“That’s all the fire trucks, all the public utilities vehicles for the line department, water and sewer, the airport maintenance vehicles, the street and parks vehicles and mowers, the engineering department and building inspection vehicles, and all the police vehicles unless they’re leased,” Lardy said. “Basically, the mechanics just need more room.”

The city’s building maintenance department also operates out of the site. This department maintains all municipal buildings including City Hall, SMEC, the senior citizens center, aquatic park, water plant, wastewater plant and business incubation building.

One “amenity” the new building will include is a women’s restroom and locker room.

“We’ve got 21 guys that work there right now, and the locker rooms are way undersized,” Lardy said. “There’s lockers in the garage area on both sides. We’re not set up for females. There’s no locker room, no bathroom.

“And there’s saleswomen that come in a lot. When they come in the street (department) side and I want to take them to the parks (department) side, we have to go outside. To go from the street side to the parks side inside, you have to walk through the men’s restroom.”

The indoor route also will take visitors through the unique break area resplendent with a variety of well-used school bus and minivan seats.

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