ORLEANS — The old highway department complex on Bay Ridge Lane looks like an estate sale waiting to happen. More than a patina – call it an encrustation – of age has settled in many of the buildings. In one garage, there's a hulking generator that appears to date back to the Model T assembly line.
“When they run it in the winter, they have to keep the garage doors open 18 inches,” said Tom Daley, the town's first Department of Public Works/Natural Resources director, who was giving a tour to a reporter and a photographer.
Nearby, there's a muster room jammed with old office chairs that the most eager of discount furniture stores would spurn. Here's where plow drivers rest and get their assignments during storms; negotiating a blizzard would be more fun than spending time here.
Outside, a DPW vehicle was being washed down, with water running along the pavement. The town can't use soap here, and the truck blocks a driveway while it gets its bath. Nearby, an ancient salt shed is illuminated by daylight descending through holes in the roof.
The era of make-do and makeshift for the department is almost at an end. This October, the Bay Ridge operation and other DPW/NR locations around town will be consolidated in a new $13 million building at 40 Giddiah Hill Rd.
“I walk into the building, and I get chills,” Daley said as the tour moved to the site of the new complex. The 42,000-square-foot facility is a garage, service center, office and customer service operation, designed to invite natural light indoors.
Offices for Daley and the town's tree warden, building and facilities manager, natural resources manager, water department superintendent and recreation director, among others, will all be located here, as will a new sticker sales office for the public.
A foreman's office is next to muster space for personnel during snowstorms and other activities, with locker rooms and showers for men and women nearby.
Three maintenance bays are fitted with a variety of lifts, including one that can raise a fire engine. A bridge crane on the ceiling can lift up to five tons. Only one mechanic is on staff now, but “with a fleet our size and light work for the police and fire departments,” Daley said, a consultant told the town 2.5 mechanics would be needed. But that's a discussion for the future.
The tour wound through the various departments' shops, all of which have access to mezzanine levels for storage. Unlike the old wooden mezzanines at Bay Ridge, these column-less steel structures can hold 400 pounds per square foot. One shop has a small “table” lift to raise a lawn mower for maintenance.
The wash bay, which is expected to extend the life of town vehicles via frequent cleanings, includes an underbody wash for salt and debris. Just beyond is the soaring vehicle storage space with its own mezzanines. Rust will have to wait outside to get at equipment stored here, but Daley noted that even this large space isn't big enough to store all the DPW's vehicles, which number 50. Some equipment will be kept in cold storage at Bay Ridge and in a shed to be built up the hill from the new complex next to the town's new salt shed.
His department's new HQ is “very utilitarian,” Daley said, “and I like it that way.”