The town of Cicero’s highway garage has a host of structural and safety issues, including overcrowding of vehicles, extensive corrosion, mold and failure to meet OSHA and ADA standards. The town is considering a $9.9 million proposal to build a new highway garage on Route 31. (Photos by Ashley M. Casey)
By Ashley M. Casey
The front of the Cicero highway garage is festooned with signs that warn of ice falling from the eaves. Inside, blotches of mold bloom through the insulation on the ceiling, which also leaks. After each snowplow run, Cicero highway department employees spend hours detaching the plows and chaining up the wings of 17 trucks, which they then squeeze into bays meant for only 14 vehicles.
The Cicero highway complex, built in 1965, has numerous structural and safety issues that would not pass muster if it were built today. At a Jan. 30 work session, Supervisor Mark Venesky said it would cost $700,000 to $1 million or more to bring the highway garage up to code, but it still would not comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act or Occupational Safety and Health Administration standards. Venesky said Feb. 4 that a forthcoming independent engineering report suggests the building be torn down.
The town hosted the first of two open houses Feb. 4 at the highway garage for residents to see the building’s issues for themselves and to hear the MRB Group’s presentation about a proposed $9.9 million highway garage on Route 31.
In addition to the problems listed above, the current highway garage’s issues include poor insulation, outdated HVAC and electrical systems, extensive corrosion and a lack of storage space. The building measures 13,000 square feet.
“We are the only town in Onondaga County that’s leaving $3 million in equipment outside,” Venesky said.
Venesky said the lack of storage costs the town $110,000 each year in equipment expenses. He said the town bought a $117,000 payloader that still runs but had to be replaced because it was corroded by salt.
Scott Bova, director of architecture for the MRB Group, called the current building “antiquated” and said the town’s fleet needs two and a half times the space to properly house all its equipment.
Bova and project manager Pat Nicoletta reviewed the specs of the proposed building, which would be constructed on the northwest end of 6658 Route 31, a 50-acre parcel near Northern Pines Golf Club. Fourteen acres of the site have been cleared for construction. Among the proposal’s features are:
According to MRB’s timeline, the town ideally would award construction bids this summer, begin building in August and complete the “envelope” of the building by the end of the year before winter begins. Construction would resume in the spring of 2018 with a projected completion by fall 2018.
MRB’s presentation will be available on the town’s website, ciceronewyork.net.
Bova broke down the $9,894,353 million project budget as follows:
Venesky said the town would secure a 30-year note to pay for the building. Residents with a $100,000 house could expect to pay about $11 toward the note in the first year and roughly $26 per year for the remainder of the bond.
“Basically, the cost of a pizza and wings takeout on an annual basis will replace the building,” Venesky said.
Bova said the building is “flexibly expandable.” The town would be able to add three more 25-foot bays, which makes room for nine more vehicles as the highway fleet grows.
“This is a 50-year building,” Venesky said. “What you see right here could last the town the next 25 or 30 years without extra money.”
Venesky said the property, which the town purchased in late 2015 for $166,500, has room for future development.
“When we come to the point where we can afford it, that’s where we would put the new town offices,” he said.
While the MRB Group has revised the highway garage proposal twice to reduce the budget, questions still remain about the project. Town councilors Jon Karp and Mike Becallo raised their concerns at the Jan. 30 work session
“There’s a lot of questions that need to be answered before a vote is taken on it,” Karp said. “It’s an extraordinary expenditure.”
Karp asked how much the town would save on equipment each year if it were able to store all of its highway equipment indoors and what the interest rate of the bond would be.
Becallo called for a public referendum on the project, but Venesky said it has not yet been decided if the highway project will go to the residents for a vote.
Becallo said the current building is “in bad, bad shape,” but added that some residents would rather spend $1 million to repair the existing garage than $10 million to build a new one.
“Some of these people may not want the extra [space for seven trucks],” Becallo said. “Maybe they just want it repaired as is.”
“Some people think we should still be using a steam shovel instead of diesel,” Venesky replied.
Resident Jim Blackburn asked a handful of questions about the project at the Feb. 4 open house.
“How does the monthly operating expense compare to this building?” he asked.
Venesky said the town pays about $1,700 a month for heat and light. Bova said overall operating costs likely would be more in the new building because it is much larger, but the cost per square foot would be very reduced. He said he could review previous MRB projects to compare the cost savings.
Blackburn also asked what it would cost to tear down the current highway garage.
“We’ve been in negotiations with another entity that’s interested in purchasing this property. They would remove this building at their expense,” Venesky said, but gave no further details about a possible sale of the current town campus.
Ashley M. Casey is a reporter for The Baldwinsville Messenger and The Eagle Star-Review. She graduated from Le Moyne College in 2012 and previously worked for the Scotsman Press.