August 18, 2023
A Preliminary Look at Town Facilities
By Gregory T. Federspiel
As we await the draft of a new Facilities Master Plan from our consulting engineers, some background information and preliminary assessments of our needs can help the community prepare for the discussions that will be needed once the plan is available. It has been decades since the Town has undertaken a major facility project, the last one being the major upgrades to the sewer treatment plant in the 1990’s. Of course, since that time the regional school district has constructed two new schools and is gearing up for a third, the Essex Elementary School project.
The DPW garage off Pleasant Street is our oldest functioning structure. It was built in the 1960’s and is a rather tired facility. Among other issues, it lacks adequate space for our fleet of trucks, never included good office space, nor adequate room for staff lockers and a proper break room. A major do-over or a new modern garage is needed. One option is to construct a new facility at the soon to be former compost site off upper School Street. Building here allows operations to continue at the old site while the new construction takes place. Once a new facility is built, the former DPW site becomes available for new uses – cemetery expansion, affordable housing, a new public safety complex or additional athletic fields are all possibilities. A new DPW facility is likely to cost some $22 million.
The Police Department continues to operate out of the same space within Town Hall that it has for some 52 years despite the increase in operations and staff. Issues with the station include a lack of a proper woman’s locker room, poor space for booking suspects, and insufficient secure storage for evidence, firearms, etc. And, with half of the dedicated police space in the lower level, flooding is a problem which will get worse in the years ahead. Adding to the current Town Hall to address these issues may be possible but has its challenges.
The Fire Station also lacks female quarters and its lower-level floods. There is potential to build out a second floor and move utilities up out of the reach of flood waters. Other improvements like creating a better separation from the truck bays and the offices/station quarters are needed. However, if a new police station is a consideration, then a new combined public safety complex for both fire and police may be a cost-effective move in the long term. In today’s dollars such a complex would be in the $25 million range.
Efforts continue to secure a new Senior/Community Center. If the Town can purchase a suitable site then it may be possible to have a successful fundraising effort to pay for needed renovations/upgrades of the space.
On the water and sewer fronts, a big issue looming here is new treatment for PFAS, the so-called “forever chemicals” for which the EPA may be imposing stricter limitations than the state’s. Costs here could be in the $25 million range. While the Town may be in line for grant funds and possible partial reimbursement from the manufacturers of the chemicals, local funding will very likely be needed as well.
Upgrades at the sewer plant must be completed soon. These will cost about $3.5 million. What we do with the plant in the longer term, 20+ years from now in the face of sea level rise, is a much bigger problem. Protecting the existing site, building a new plant at a new site, or sending our wastewater either to Gloucester or Beverly are three options, each with a unique set of hurdles to overcome along with high price tags.
The Library Trustees would like to embark on plans to expand the library. To do so will require additional land. And a waterfront office for the Harbormaster, likely combined with public restrooms and perhaps transient boater amenities has been identified as a need – Reed or Masonomo Parks are two possible locations.
Other future projects that will need to be discussed include additional athletic fields, cemetery expansion, and seawall improvements.
While there are many needs, a prioritization of the projects will have to take place with projects timed to the ability to fund them without overburdening taxpayers. More on these strategies to follow.