New fire station, town hall rehab planned for Oak Bluffs

The capital improvement plan calls for replacing the Oak Bluffs fire and EMS building. — File photo by Mae Deary

Oak Bluffs town officials unveiled an ambitious capital projects campaign on Tuesday. The campaign calls for construction of a new fire station, an extensive remodeling of town hall, major repairs to other town buildings, and new public safety and highway department vehicles over the next six years.

The plan calls for $10.9 million in spending from 2013 to 2018, and an additional $6.3 million after that. The most expensive projects would be financed by long-term borrowing, and if voters approve, excluded from the tax limiting provisions of Proposition 2.5.

Bill McGrath, who presented the plan for a capital planning committee, said the projects will not have a significant impact on the town’s tax rate, because new project bonds will replace debt that will be retired over the next several years.

“It doesn’t affect the tax rate,” Mr. McGrath told selectmen at their Tuesday meeting. “There are no wild gyrations.” He added the goal of the capital project plans is to keep the town’s debt costs at about the current level of $3 million annually.

But he acknowledged that the capital plan does not include funding sources for any projects for the Oak Bluffs School, or the town wastewater department, and that those departments may need funding for major capital projects in the future. He also said the committee has not identified funding for some of the projects included in the plan.

Voters will be asked to decide whether to begin several capital projects at a special town meeting scheduled for November 13, including a $250,000 bond to finance extensive repairs and maintenance of town buildings.

“This town was slammed in the recession,” Mr. McGrath said. “Lots of building maintenance was deferred. We need to catch up.”

What’s the plan?

The capital projects plan emerged from three months of evaluation and analysis of the town’s needs.

“Our ongoing annual capital requirements are both predictable and stable, but require consistent attention to stay current each year,” the committee wrote in a report to selectmen. “In recent years the town has focused on dealing with the financial pressures associated with limited revenues, and we are now seeing an erosion of basic services and infrastructure maintenance as a result. This plan has sought to prioritize the town’s annual capital needs across the entire organization and to apply resources thoughtfully to meet our most pressing needs.”

The committee focused immediate attention on maintenance of town buildings. On the November special town meeting warrant, voters will decide if they want to authorize town officials to borrow $250,000 to finance repairs to municipal buildings.

The repairs include a new roof for both the police department headquarters and town hall, exterior painting and repairs for the library and the police station, replacement of heating systems for the highway department offices and the fire station, structural work on the Mainstay building in Sailing Camp Park, and extensive repairs to the air-conditioning and ventilation systems at the library and town hall.

“The town must make a major decision this year,” the capital planning committee wrote in its report. “Will the town invest in basic building maintenance to extend the life cycle of its facilities or will the town continue to defer maintenance and risk having to invest millions in their repair and replacement in the future.”

Long-term plan

The capital improvement plan calls for a new $4.5-million public safety building with construction to begin in fiscal year 2015. “The Fire/EMS station is a metal fabricated building that currently lacks the structural integrity to serve as a key public safety facility,” the committee wrote. “It is also startlingly deficient in terms of lacking space for administrative offices, training, equipment storage or ready rooms. The building is truly on its last legs, and planning should start now for a replacement.”

The committee called for $2.5 million in renovations to town hall, with construction scheduled for fiscal year 2016. “The town hall facility was hastily converted from a historic school building to municipal office space with very little planning or renovation,” the committee wrote in its report. “The offices are poorly laid out using substandard temporary interior construction and wiring that does not meet code. Water infiltration is a major problem and despite the large amount of building square footage, offices are cramped, records storage substandard, and meeting space is very limited.”

Capital expenditures for the highway department include replacement of four pickup trucks, three small dump trucks and a full-size dump truck, a front end loader, and a street sweeper. The committee estimates replacement of those vehicles will cost $797,500 over the next five years, but it did not recommend borrowing to fund the purchases.

“We do not have a dedicated funding source,” the committee wrote. “Often these vehicles get dragged into the operating budget, where they compete for funding with basic service needs and manpower. Our next challenge will be to isolate the operating funds to make these equipment purchases, and seeking to fund these needs from ongoing budgets.”

The plan also calls for purchase of a new ambulance at a cost of $270,000, and a new fire truck at a cost of $600,000. Those vehicles would be financed from the ambulance reserve fund. Income from off-Island ambulance transport goes into that fund.

The capital plan envisions $4.5 million in repairs to the North Bluff seawall and boardwalk. The committee hopes to fund that project with state and federal grants.