Tuesday evening, about 19 people turned out for a garage bond informational meeting at Twin Valley High School. Selectboard chair Tom Consolino noted that the number of voters and the number of speakers were “about even.”
Board members offered a short history of the garage, which was built in 1963. About 30 years later, in 1994, the town first started looking at a replacement for the garage. Board member Meg Streeter noted that, at that time, “Chimney Hill had been built, and our (highway department) needs changed.”
In 1998, Wilmington voters approved the creation of a garage capital fund and put $25,000 in it. In 2001, Town Meeting voters raised $50,000 to purchase land for a garage and, in 2004, the town closed on a parcel off Haystack Road, behind Deerfield Valley Supply. In 2008, Town Meeting voters defeated a $925,000 bond for a $1.2 million garage. Two months later, voters agreed to add $185,000 in surplus funds to the garage capital account at a special Town Meeting, but defeated an Australian ballot for a $595,000 bond on a scaled-down garage project.
After the twin defeats, planning efforts were put on hold until fall 2009, when a new garage committee was formed.
Since then, garage committee chair Chuck Clerici said, the committee sent out a request for information to 60 different architect firms before choosing Cotton-Balaski, of Newfane. “We put together a simple design with features that, in the long run, will be well received,” said architect David Cotton. “There are options for solar panels and interior panels that could be put up. Energy efficiency is over and above what is required.”
After design work was completed, the committee offered the project to the public and received 12 bids from contractors before choosing Ingram Construction, of Swanzey, NH. Steve Ingram, who owns the company with his brother Jeff Ingram, said the company plans to spend a significant amount of money in the community over the course of construction. “We’re committed to buying locally, certainly we’ll be buying materials from WW Building Supply, local hardware shops, and coffee shops especially,” he said. “If we need to augment our core group, we’ll be in a position to hire local people.”
Jeff Ingram said the town was in a good position to take advantage, not only of lower interest rates, but lower costs on construction materials and lower rates from contractors.
Several voters questioned the level of fire protection in the design. Bob Grinold said he agreed that the town needed a new garage. “I was town manager about 35 years ago,” he said. “About three months into my term I called VOSHA and asked if they would inspect the garage. When the selectboard found out about it, I was dead meat. They found a whole bunch of crap, but we fixed most of it and got away with them.”
But Grinold said the lack of a firewall to prevent fire from spreading from bay to bay, and the lack of heating zones was a deal breaker for him. “If there’s a fire in the new garage, we’ll lose the entire fleet,” he said. “And there are no heat zones so that you can heat the work areas to a comfortable temperature. I won’t vote for it unless those additions are incorporated.”
Clerici said both points had been discussed by the committee, but they conflicted with the goal of offering a low-cost garage option to voters. “There were things we had to give up,” he said. “We were asked to provide a more energy efficient, cost effective garage design. Many of us agree with you on the partitions, and they could easily be added. For a cost.”
Cotton said adding a firewall would be as easy as building a floor-to-ceiling wood-framed partition covered with 5/8” fire-rated sheetrock. But Wilmington resident Gary Debarba said that would be a “fire separation wall,” different from a “fire wall.” Cotton said the partition he described would have a one-hour fire rating.
Debarba also asked what the town would do with the current town garage. Haughwout said any decision regarding the garage would require public input and would have to wait until completion of the new garage. “It needs public discourse,” she said. “It belongs to taxpayers. But there’s no money set aside, and no decision has been made.”
The $340,000 bond for the proposed new garage will be decided by Australian ballot on Town Meeting day. The bond will pay for roughly a third of the cost of the project, which is pegged at $963,483. The figure includes construction costs of $770,034 for the garage building and a salt shed, as well as $113,000 for site work and materials, $36,450 for utilities and equipment, and a $44,000 contingency fund for unexpected costs.
Board member Susan Haughwout told voters that, thanks to the town’s garage fund of $646,998, the contingency fund won’t be part of the bond. Any portion of the contingency that’s not used will remain in the fund until Town Meeting voters elect to use it.
Haughwout said the selectboard chose a 10-year bond rather than a 20-year bond to keep interest costs at a minimum. “With a $340,000 bond over 10 years, the interest is about $62,000,” she said. “It would be almost $153,000 for a 20-year bond. We thought it would be prudent to retire this bond as quickly as possible.”
The bond payment due during the second, and highest, year of the bond would be $44,098, adding about two-thirds of a cent to the municipal tax rate. The projected interest rate, at 3.186%, is less than half the interest the town paid for the last two municipal bonds.
A sewer bond that was paid off in 2010 had an interest rate of 6.75%, and the town hall bond that will be paid off in 2011 had an interest rate of 6.9%. In 1981, interest on a school bond for renovations at Wilmington High School exceeded nine percent.
“Interest rates are at or near 40-year lows,” Haughwout said. “We’ll know the final rate after we’ve applied for the bond, but we’ve been told that Wilmington is a very good risk.”