Cost savings sought for town garage 

SOUTHWEST HARBOR With the help of an Infrastructure Committee, selectmen have decided to revisit the plan for a new town garage to see if they can find cost savings before putting it back out to bid.  

“My biggest concern is we pare some stuff out of here, send it back out to bid and the bid comes back higher than the first time,” said Town Manager Justin VanDongen during the discussion at their Nov. 24 virtual meeting via Zoom. “The price of materials has gone up and I’m hoping that maybe there’s somebody that still needs work out there…I’m worried.” 

After voters rejected the $1.9 million bid at Town Meeting by nine votes (280-289), selectmen were going to explore less expensive options to house public works equipment. Currently, the public works garage at the Seal Cove Road location is only insured for liability because of its decrepit condition.  

Instead of exploring the idea of building a smaller structure, a garage located on Mountain View Road was presented to the town as an option by two of its three owners at the end of the summer. After negotiating with the third owner, who agreed to sell if he could lease a portion of the garage from the town, a price was offered to the Board of Selectmen. Selectmen had previously set an amount in executive session that they would be willing to accept to purchase the garage, but the offer was more than $50,000 greater than the highest number they had agreed upon.  

That offer was rejected by selectmen at their Nov. 17 meeting after hearing from several neighbors who were not in favor of the acquisition. With winter fast approaching and concern about housing town equipment, the board formed an Infrastructure Committee to help decide how to proceed. 

Members of the Infrastructure Committee include VanDongen, water and sewer district manager Steve Kenney, Public Works Foreman Scott Alley and Board of Selectmen members Allen ‘Snap’ Willey and George Jellison.  

During their last meeting, VanDongen presented selectmen with two options: review the plan that went out to bid to see where there could be savings or look at constructing a smaller two-bay garage in order to have a newer building to house some equipment.  

Selectmen voted unanimously to have the Infrastructure Committee review the plan to cut costs and put it back out to bid.  

“I’d like the Infrastructure Committee to look at options for this winter,” said board member Carolyn Ball, referring to finding a space to rent or lease to temporarily house public works equipment. 

When VanDongen expressed concern about a higher bid coming back even after cuts had been made to the plan, Alley asked if the committee should shop around both ideas in order to have a plan to fall back on. Hutchins asked for more information about the two-bay garage option.  

“It would be a two-bay garage, a maintenance bay and a washdown bay,” said VanDongen. “The maintenance bay would have a little more room for tools and stuff like that. Then a cold storage barn, a pole barn style with metal skin to store things like the buses and the truck, all those things that aren’t being worked on or washed down.” 

Southwest Harbor School Committee Member John Izenour attended the meeting and voiced concern that the school buses need to be properly housed to keep them in operation.  

“Basically when schools do go remote, it’s going to be because of buses, probably, maybe not even COVID,” he said, noting that the entire district was operating on an extremely small margin of error. “There is absolutely no leeway with the very complicated bus schedule we’ve got now.  

“We just want to be sure those buses have somewhere to be this winter and that our bus drivers have easy access, and we don’t run into trouble where we end up having to close the schools because we can’t get the buses moving around.” 

VanDongen assured him the buses were being properly maintained and told the board the town had a couple of leads for housing equipment through the winter.  

During the select board meeting this week, the discussion regarding buses continued when it came to potential savings for the building.  

“I have an opinion but it wouldn’t fly,” said Ball. “I can tell you what I would get rid of. I don’t think school buses need to be inside buildings… I just don’t have a clue why we have to spend money to put school buses under roofs. All towns don’t have their school buses under roofs.” 

Selectman Willey said the town had done it that way since the ‘60s. Chad Terry, also a selectman, said he agreed the buses didn’t need to be stored in heated bays, but the having them covered to keep snow off them would be preferable.  

“Going down the road with snow on the roof is just a hazard,” added Terry. 

 “I think more important than having them stored under cover is having that washdown bay in which they can get the salt off of them,” said VanDongen. “And, do a better job of preventing the corrosion, which is really the enemy of the bus to begin with.” 

Jellison said after looking at the plans for the garage, he felt they were a good plan for a 40 to 50 year building.  

“I’d like to look at the possibility of seeing what we can do with that,” said Jellison. “Because I think it is a quality product for the long term for the town.” 

VanDongen said he had contacted the contractor for the lowest bid and was scheduling a time to meet with him to go over potential cost savings. Selectmen agreed more public outreach and education regarding the project would be necessary before putting it before the voters again.  

“I don’t think it was a lack of the town providing information,” VanDongen said about the vote that failed in July. “I think it was a concerted effort to misinform voters. I think it was wholly defeated by a misinformation campaign.”  

“That and nobody attended the public hearings to find out for themselves,” said Hutchins. “I was very disappointed with the vote. I just don’t want to waste our time.” 



Sarah Hinckley

Sarah Hinckley

Former Islander reporter Sarah Hinckley covered the towns of Southwest Harbor, Tremont and neighboring islands.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.