St. Armand board approves new highway garage

BLOOMINGDALE – The St. Armand town board voted unanimously Tuesday to move forward with construction of a new, long-awaited highway garage.

The four-bay garage, which is estimated to cost $925,000, will be 106 feet long by 60 feet wide, or roughly double the size of the town’s existing, 70-year-old highway garage on Main Street (state Route 3), which is in disrepair and is too small for the department’s vehicles.

The new garage was designed by Ethan Hall of Rucinski Hall Architecture, based on the guidance of a four-person committee the town appointed to make recommendations on the project. The committee was created after the town board rescinded a decision last year to build a 7,200-square-foot masonry-wall garage for $750,000. The move came after a group of about 70 town residents who were concerned about the cost and size of the proposed building forced a permissive referendum on the project.

The new garage will be a wood-framed structure with metal siding, four-foot high concrete walls around its base, a metal roof and in-floor heating. In addition to the four truck bays, the building will have office space, a break room, utility room, a restroom and a parts room.

“It should be a facility that’s going to last a good, long time and be relatively inexpensive to build,” Hall told town officials at a special board meeting Tuesday.

The new highway garage will be located on roughly the same site as the existing garage, but its truck bays will face the side of the property instead of Main Street. Town Supervisor Charlie Whitson said that was done to alleviate concerns about noise, specifically the beeping sound of highway trucks backing up. Several trees will be planted on a raised bed near the road to help further reduce noise from the garage, Whitson said.

The town is planning to put the project out to bid in late February. Demolition of the old garage, by town and Essex County highway crews, would begin in April. The town hopes construction of the new garage can begin by May 1.

Hall estimated that work on the project will take about six months. During that time, the town will keep its highway vehicles outside on the back of the highway garage property.

The town is pursuing grant funding to pay for the project. Town Clerk Davina Thurston has filed four grant applications, including a Consolidated Funding Application through the North Country Regional Economic Development Council.

“What we don’t get, if any, from grant monies, we will have to put out for bonding,” Whitson said. He said the town’s first bond payment for the project wouldn’t be until 2015, when it will also have to start paying for a major sewer system upgrade. “We’re going to have a double whammy.”

While Hall has estimated the new garage will cost $925,000, Councilman Sam Grimone noted that the true cost won’t be known until the bids come in. He raised concerns about publicizing Hall’s cost estimate, as it could influence the bid process, but the town ultimately left the estimate in its resolution authorizing construction of the new garage.

“Those are the numbers we’re using if we go out to bond,” Whitson said. “We could go out to bond, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we need to use the full amount. That’s the maximum we’re looking at to cover the project.”

Town resident and local real estate broker Sandy Hayes, who had gathered signatures to force a referendum on the previous highway garage proposal, noted that the new plan is more expensive than the one some town residents opposed.

“I thought we were going to go the other way with our costs by doing this change of design, smaller garage and different construction, but it looks like we went up a couple hundred grand instead of down,” Hayes said.

“Or maybe we were too low before,” Grimone responded. Others said the prior cost estimate may not have been realistic.

Tuesday night’s decision is subject to another 30-day permissive referendum, which Whitson said will begin Nov. 1 and run through Nov. 30. That means town residents can put the issue on the ballot if 5 percent of the people who voted in the last presidential election, in 2012, sign the necessary petitions.

Contact Chris Knight at 891-2600 ext. 24 or