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)
I would like to share some background on the Cicero highway garage situation and then some insight into our thinking and motivations to get the new highway garage project moving as soon as possible.
There is a lot of misinformation out there and it is my intent to share with you the facts as I know them to be.
When I took office as town councilor three years ago, I learned that the highway garage roof had been leaking for more than 10 years. I personally observed water coming into the building through electrical conduit and down into a bucket on the floor. Ceiling insulation was hanging from the roof and it looked like mold was present on large areas of the interior roof surface. When I asked Highway Superintendent Chris Woznica why the roof had been neglected, he told me that the town hadn’t given him the money to address it.
I then learned that the town had no long- (or even short-) term capital plan to deal with the replacement or repair of its buildings or assets. We are in the process of putting such a plan together and we will have one in place before the end of this year.
In the fall of 2014, then-Supervisor Jessica Zambrano appointed a commission to look at our buildings and to make recommendations as to their future. The commission stated that the highway and police buildings needed to be replaced. I will update you regarding the state and status of the police building in a future letter to the editor. Shortly thereafter, a Request for Quote (RFQ) went out and 12 firms were interviewed to design a new highway garage. MRB Group was selected to design a building.
I’ll fast forward to January of 2016. Shortly after taking office as supervisor, I reviewed the building plans and called a meeting with MRB. I told them that the building that they had designed was too expensive and that we weren’t going to build it. I had them work with Chris Woznica, Deputy Supervisor Vern Conway and Highway Foremen David Christianson and Jim Baldwin to come up with a new design.
I told them that we wanted a building that was expandable and one that would meet our needs for the next 20 years before an expansion might become necessary. The building will be built to last a minimum of 50 years.
By early winter, MRB came back with a building that we believe is practical, and that will meet our needs moving forward. The building cost is $7 million. That includes the New York state mandate of paying prevailing wage, which can add up to an additional 20 percent to a municipal project’s cost. The building will house over 30 pieces of equipment. The $2.9 million extra is for engineering: environmental, legal and unforeseen costs that may arise. The total project cost might be less than $9.9 million, but not more if building can move forward this year. Please note that the redesigned building is 4,000 feet smaller than originally proposed and $1.2 million less than originally planned.
As a final piece of due diligence, we asked for an independent evaluation of the existing building to get a more accurate idea as to where the town stood with options. We selected the Hueber Breuer Company because of their reputation and because they have no affiliation to either the town or our employees.
Their evaluation and report is shocking. In fact, we called a special public town board meeting on Feb. 27 to have the report explained to us by Sean Foran of Hueber Breuer who also answered our questions. Pictures, his report and the town board minutes are available online at ciceronewyork.net.
The Hueber Breuer engineering report clearly states on page 125: “The building is structurally compromised and has exceeded the end of its intended useful life span… There is evidence of water damage in multiple areas of the building and water has clearly infiltrated the foundation walls and wall cavity, which has caused damage to sections of the walls in the truck bay and other finished areas.”
On page 127: “The pre-engineered metal roof has outlived its useful life, and there are noticeable ceiling leaks in a number of areas. In some areas, the water infiltration and roof leaks have resulted in the build-up of mold and mildew.”
The existing building cannot be rebuilt. If it could be rebuilt, it still would not meet legal requirements or meet our current or future needs.
Said Sean Foran at the Feb. 27 meeting, “I would not have people in that building if you know that you are going to get 18 inches of wet snow. I am not a structural engineer, as a disclaimer, but common practice/common sense would tell you don’t push your luck.”
During the March snowstorm, as a safety precaution, we vacated the highway garage for five days and left all of our equipment outside with our highway team working out of a parks and recreation department garage bay. This resulted in extra overtime costs and additional safety concerns.
I would invite you to read the reports. We had two public hearings and two open houses at the highway garage with tours in February. We will have an additional open house from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, May 31. If you would like a private tour or have additional questions, please call me at (315) 699-1414.
I believe that you will agree that the need for a garage is no longer debatable; it can no longer be deferred to another future time.
The other issue we considered is, how long from approval to shovels in the ground? The engineers told us that if we approved in March, that we could possibly have shovels in the ground by July or August. The offices and shop area could be completed by winter 2017-18 but we would not have all of our vehicles in the building until summer of 2018. We are on the very cusp of losing the 2017 construction season altogether.
I believe that with the release of the Hueber Breuer report in late February, that the decision to have a public or non-public vote was determined for us.
Our attorneys tell us that with just one injury caused by a catastrophic building failure we could possibly pay out the cost of that new building in claims and legal fees alone and we would still have to build the new facility.
Of equal and important concern is, what do we do with our people and equipment next winter? The current building most likely will not be habitable for the 2017-18 winter season. I think that most readers will see the seriousness of the situation that we are in.
Our engineers tell us that by missing this building season, and because this project is subject to prevailing wage rates; coupled with the anticipated interest rate increase by the Federal Reserve, you and I may realistically pay an additional $500,000 next year for what we could have built this year.
With me, it was purely a business and public safety decision.
Now, the public referendum is scheduled for noon to 8 p.m. Wednesday, June 7. It will be held in our existing highway garage. I urge everyone to come out and vote.
Thank you for your involvement with this serious issue.