Brian McLaughlin pumps liquid magnesium chloride into a plow truck in 2015 at the John Charest Public Works facility in Augusta. A recent report recommends the city spend $20 million to upgrade the facility. An architectural consultant said it features old, outdated buildings and is unsafe due to the layout of the complex. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file

AUGUSTA — The city’s public works facility needs more than $20 million in new buildings and other improvements to be made safe.

Architectural consultants spent the last year looking at nearly every city building, and identified the John Charest Public Works facility at the end of North Street as the highest priority for work they recommend take place within the next five years.

The Harriman Associates report, presented to city councilors last week, also recommends the Darrell Parker Wells Fire Station on Bangor Street be replaced, at a cost of about $3.4  million, and the 50-year-old Augusta Civic Center receive a new roof and $33 million in improvements and updates overall.

Architect Will Gatchell  said the public works department campus features old, outdated buildings and is unsafe due to the layout of the complex. The design currently forces members of the public to travel into areas with traffic from public works and other city vehicles that come to the site to fuel up at gas pumps there.

“We observed, when you’re a member of the public and you need to pay a bill or recycle something or pick up some sand, whatever you’re doing, you’re going right into the flow of the fleet of public works vehicles,” Gatchell said. “Also, not only public works, but also police and fire, all the city’s infrastructure, is using that fuel island and for someone to be dropping off a piece of bulky recycling, it’s just not the safest adjacency. But there’s really no other place where that can happen.”

To begin addressing those concerns, the report recommends building a new administration building, near the entrance to the public works site, so members of the public can go there without disrupting the rest of public works operations.


The report also recommends, as part of a second phase of work at the public works site, replacing the existing eight-bay garage, which is of an unknown age, with a new 12-bay garage. That would provide additional space to be used for the recommended third phase, replacement of the large maintenance garage built in 1950. The larger 12-bay garage would provide space for public works trucks to be maintained while the maintenance garage was replaced, allowing the department to continue to function and plow and repairs roads while the construction work took place.

“Public works is a critical facility, you can’t just shut it down and expect the city to continue to function,” Gatchell said. “This represents the ability for public works to see a complete transformation, into a very safe, professional, functional facility, for the long term.”

City Manager Susan Robertson said city councilors will need to meet again to prioritize the recommended work. And then determine how the city would pay for it all. The public works projects, new fire station and civic center roof replacement total more than $29 million.

Councilors expressed concerns about the facilities problems identified in the report, as well as the cost to fix them.

“We can’t do any of this without additional revenue, we’re going to have to grow and seek economic development,” said Ward 4 Councilor Eric Lind. “Because I don’t know if we can sustain this much debt. So we’re going to have to really prioritize and figure out what buildings to take care of and keep them safe and running and really focus on bringing in more revenue. It’s overwhelming, but we’ve got to take it in small pieces, a little chunk at a time.”

The report states the Darrell Parker Wells Fire Station on Bangor Street — the only fire station on the east side of the Kennebec River — should be replaced with a new station which, despite its current location being ideal to respond in multiple directions, would have to be at a different site as the current spot is too small. The report states it would be better to build a new substation, of between 4,500 and 5,200 square feet, than renovate the current 2,600-square-foot substation built in 1963 so it would meet current firefighting and occupant safety standards.


The report recommends a new roof for the auditorium of the civic center, at a cost of around $2 million, and $7.3 million in updates to the multi-use facility’s heating, air conditioning and ventilation system and its electrical system, for which replacement parts are not available.

The building is an important generator of revenue for the city, which rents the space for trade shows, meetings and other events.

City Development Director Matt Nazar warned that if the 50-year-old electrical switchgear at the civic center failed, the building would likely need to be shut down for as long as a year so a new electrical room could be installed.

That work is part of more than $33 million in short, medium and long-term improvements the consultants recommend be done at the civic center.

“For the most part if you walk through that building, a lot of it looks like it did in 1973,” Ward 3 Councilor Mike Michaud said. “We know we have to replace the (Wells) fire station, we know we have to replace some public works buildings, and out of all these buildings the civic center is the only income-producing avenue we have here. The civic center has been such an asset to our community the last 50 years. This is going to be one of the debates we’ll need to have.”

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