Plans for garage move ahead

SOUTHWEST HARBOR — Selectmen agreed to let voters decide if they want to spend $1.8 million on a town garage.

In their meeting on Tuesday night, a motion to accept the lowest bid, contingent upon town meeting approval, passed by a vote of 3:2. Selectmen Ryan Donahue and Lydia Goetze were opposed.

“I have mixed feelings about this,” said Goetze. “We’ve got a Cadillac for a town that can really afford a Ford. We need to feel that we are making a good recommendation on something as significant as this.” At their April 28 meeting, selectmen reviewed the bids received for building a new town garage in the same location on Seal Cove Road as the current public works facility. Bids for the project ranged from $1.8 million to $2 million.

Nearly $400,000 has been set aside for the project in a town Capital Improvement Project (CIP) account.

When constructing a new garage was first proposed in 2017 by then town manager Don Lagrange, he estimated it could be built for $250,000 with him acting as general contractor to save on costs.

“I think there was a little bit of sticker shock,” said Town Manager Justin VanDongen at the Tuesday meeting regarding the bids. “After going over individual costs, I tend to agree it was a pretty competitive bid.”

VanDongen and all the selectmen agree the current town garage, which is only insured for liability at this point, is not likely to stand another year.

“The old building is going to cave in on us at some point,” said Selectman Allen ‘Snap’ Willey.

“This is the last winter in that garage, one way or the other,” said VanDongen. “I think it has to be.”

Board of Selectmen member Kristin Hutchins asked Goetze what was ‘Cadillac’ about the project.

“I’m not convinced it’s necessarily best to have a heated area for the whole space,” said Goetze. “I find $640,000 for the slab part amazing. It just feels like a monstrous slab cost to me… I think we made the most expensive choice at each choice point.”

Donahue was struggling with $400,000 for site work at the location. Those two items, which includes a radiant floor heating system, make up more than half of the price of the lowest bid.

“I think we might have considered backing up the bus, literally,” said Donahue about having time to review different aspects of the project for cost analysis. “I think this needs to be thoroughly vetted before we put it before the voters.”

VanDongen previously estimated the cost for the building alone is less than $150,000.

“Is this the best option for the town?” asked Donahue, who then posed a question to Public Works Foreman Scott Alley. “Is there anything in this building you feel that you could do without, or is it necessity?”

“I think it’s a necessity to take care of the trucks in the long run,” said Alley in response. “I don’t feel like it’s a ‘Cadillac’ plan.”

Selectman Chad Terry said the town should take advantage of low interest rates and begin the project sooner rather than later.

“We should be able to get 60-plus years out of this building,” said Terry. “This will prolong the value of our trucks.”

There was further discussion about possibly eliminating aspects of the project, whether the site it is on is optimum, and the amount of debt scheduled to be added to the town’s books in the next few years.

“It really is our task to be thinking long term,” said Hutchins. “This does not strike me as a ‘Cadillac’ project.”


Sarah Hinckley

Sarah Hinckley

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

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