BLOOMINGDALE - A referendum on the town of St. Armand's plan to build a $750,000 highway garage has been called off after the town board voted this week to rescind the resolution that led people to petition for the public vote.
The decision comes after town residents and some board members raised concerns that the board hadn't looked at all possible options when it voted 3-2 on May 8 to authorize construction of a new, 7,200-square-foot, masonry-wall garage. Last month, more than 70 town residents signed petitions against that decision, forcing the permissive referendum on the project.
The board withdrew the May 8 resolution by a unanimous vote at its meeting Tuesday night, according to town Supervisor Joyce Morency. The board then approved a resolution to have its engineer draw up plans for construction of a pre-engineered metal building, an option Morency and town Councilman Charlie Whitson previously said they had ruled out. The board also agreed to have Councilman Sam Grimone work with the town's engineer to come up with prices for using insulated foam blocks, an option Grimone has wanted to pursue.
"Majority rules, and the majority wasn't happy with this one set of plans and they want another, so we're moving forward to get what they want," Morency said Thursday. "It doesn't mean that (the masonry-style building) may not be one of the buildings we go out to bid on. But it means we withdrew (the May 8 resolution), so we don't have to have a referendum."
"In my mind, I feel like the cement blocks that we were going to use would be a perfect fit for us in the middle of this little community. Comparing that to pre-engineered metal with all the girders out in the room and everything, you lose so much of your space inside. And there's the moisture and the metal and all kinds of things. But the bottom line is majority rules, and three of the board members wanted a second choice and possibly a third choice, so that's what we're doing."
Councilman Don Amell, who along with Councilman Earl "Jimmy" Dakin had opposed the May 8 resolution, said he was glad the full board is now going to get a "cross-section of choices.
"This is what I had in the back of my mind from the start, to take a broader look at things," Amell said Friday. "We never had a feel for price, and this will give us that. And I think this is exactly what the public wanted when they filed for the referendum, just to ensure we were looking at all the options."
The cost of the masonry building was another concern among the public and some board members. The pre-engineered steel building would be cheaper than a concrete block highway garage by about $10 per square foot, based on what Morency said the town's architect told the board Tuesday.
"We'll know it for sure when we get the bids back, of course," Amell said. "The impression I got is we'd get a better bang for the buck (with the metal building), and it would be cheaper."
Morency said she expects the town would go out to bid on the different options later this year, possibly in December, and build the new garage in the spring. She said there's "no way" the structure could be built before winter, which raises questions about where the highway department will be able to park its trucks this winter. Town officials told the Enterprise in May they don't believe the town's insurance company would cover the town's vehicles if they're parked in the current 70-year-old highway garage, part of which is being held up by braces.
"We haven't really figured out that part of it," Morency said Thursday. "It's a concern. There is some talk with our board members of having another structural study of our building."
But Amell thinks there's a chance a pre-engineered metal building could be constructed before winter.
"From what I understand, construction time is really lessened with that style of building," he said. "My understanding is there is a possibility we may have the building usable by winter if we go that route. We are going to go back to the original architect to get a follow up on the existing building to make sure it's safe for the guys if we have to use it again this winter."
The controversy and debate over the highway garage project has created some friction on the town board, but Amell said he hopes that's in the past.
"What I'm hoping for is that once we do get all the options out there, then we can work a little bit better as a group," he said. "I hope we do patch up and get beyond the conflict. I'm hopeful the public will see that and we'll get some confidence back because this has been a rough time."
Contact Chris Knight at 518-891-2600 ext. 24 or firstname.lastname@example.org.