By Scooter MacMillan, Editor
It’s probably incorrect to say that plans for building a town garage are headed back to the drawing board, because plans for the garage really never left the metaphorical drawing board.
However, the Charlotte Selectboard is taking another look at plans for a garage to replace the garage where road commissioner Junior Lewis had kept his snowplows and other road equipment before a pre-Christmas fire burned it down.
Demonstrating a flair with understatement, Charlotte Selectboard Chair Jim Faulkner said there has been “some concern” about how high the initial estimate for a new garage is at the selectboard’s Monday, May 9, meeting.
The “concern” ignited by the $3.7 million estimate by Russell Construction Services and objections to the energy efficiency of the proposed building have prompted the selectboard to briefly step off the fast track to starting construction and to consider ways to bring the cost and energy use of the building down.
The selectboard planned to meet with the energy committee to discuss the garage’s design on Wednesday, after this newspaper went to print.
Speaking from the audience, Peter Trono said the predicted cost of the garage was “outrageous.”
Trono’s suggestions about where the cost could be trimmed included cutting the design from two bathrooms to one, reducing the number of bays where trucks will be worked on, and eliminating a full kitchen.
He also questioned locating the new garage on town property on the west side of Route 7 south of Ferry Road.
“Aside from Thompson’s Point, this is probably one of the most valuable pieces of property the town has, and we’re putting a garage on it,” Trono said.
Several people argued against Trono’s suggestion for the design to be modified so garage doors were on the front of the building. Those opposed to this idea argued that land-use regulations don’t allow it.
Lewis said the number of heated bays could be reduced to four but felt there should still be a total of six, with two of the bays offering dry, though cold, storage.
“If half the building was cold, dry storage, we could slash the construction costs quite a bit,” board member Matt Krasnow said.
When Faulkner said the selectboard was discussing how to heat the garage with the energy committee, Trono replied, “I hope it doesn’t cost the taxpayer like most things that the energy committee does.”
One of the design conundrums of a town garage in Vermont is collecting all the melted ice water on truck undercarriages from scraping snow-covered roads and drying out overnight. And, Lewis pointed out, this water has to be separated from oil, gas and other pollutants.
Keeping Junior Lewis
Selectboard members talked about their concerns about getting the garage built as soon as possible while adhering to cost, energy and design principles.
Faulkner said he had seen Lewis lying on the frozen ground working on a truck at 3 a.m. since the garage burned down and he doesn’t think that will happen for too long before Lewis decides not to run for road commissioner again.
Town clerk and treasurer Mary Mead pointed out how valuable keeping Lewis as road commissioner is: “Everybody else has used 85 percent or more of their budget. Junior has used less than 50 percent of his budget. Doesn’t that say something?”
In a conversation after the meeting, Faulkner said if Charlotte loses Junior Lewis, it would probably mean the town would not only be paying for a new building because it would also be buying a fleet of snow plows and starting a town-owned road department.
Lewis said he didn’t want a lot of frills; he wants a building that’s as inexpensive and simple as possible “so it would pass with voters. That’s my number one thing.”
Board member Lewis Mudge said he thought using the town’s remaining (just over) $1 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds to help pay for the garage demonstrates how serious the board is about trying to reduce construction cost.
The board voted unanimously to use the rest of the funds, often called ARPA, on the garage.
Dealing with the press
Toward the end of the meeting, the board members arrived at a scheduled discussion about the selectboard’s relationship with the press. It was a continuation of a conversation that popped up at a board meeting in the fall concerning how the board “wanted to handle the press,” Faulkner said.
Mudge said he was surprised to see the subject back on the agenda.
Some members have worried about how one board member’s comments can be perceived as if they are talking for the whole board.
“Nobody, including the chair, should be representing the selectboard to the press,” member Frank Tenney said.