LIVINGSTON, NJ – The Livingston Township Council dedicated more than two hours on Monday evening to discussing options for a new Department of Public Works (DPW) facility.

On March 18, the council authorized the negotiation and purchase of property on Industrial Parkway in Livingston and, on April 19, a 2013 bond ordinance was introduced which would fund the $2.3 million land acquisition cost.  Months later, the council has still not made a final decision on the purchase of this property and has decided to revisit their options and resume discussion.

Township Engineer Rich Calbi, DPW superintendent Mike Anello and contracted architect Greg Samjen comprised a team that presented the council with information on the current DPW facility’s conditions and three building plan options.

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Calbi described the current site as “barely adequate for the current level of operations.” 

Some of the existing conditions and deficiencies presented to the council included: lack of facility space for efficient day to day operations, consistent flooding, inability to regulate building temperature, lack of space for sleeping and privacy for changing.

Out of all of the deficiencies discussed, flooding was a major point of discussion.  According to Calbi, 1.7 of the 3.3 acres of the current DPW site has wet lands. When water rises from Canoe Brook at the back of the property, a portion of the facility floods and needs to be attended to.  “So what happens in an emergency is that the DPW itself is in an emergency,” explained Calbi.

Anello added that vehicle longevity translates to a major spending issue for the township, as well. He said that the town currently owns about $11 million in equipment which is not garaged. Machines are lasting nine years outside when they should be lasting 20 to 25 years inside. “The weather is killing it,” said Anello.

Anello also pointed out that due to the lack of employee accommodations, workers are currently sleeping on lunch tables or in their trucks during 36-hour snowstorm shifts. “That’s no way to treat our employees,” said Anello.

After considering the combined needed space for all DPW divisions and the addition of housing buses for the Board of Education, it was calculated that at least 5 acres were needed.  

The current DPW employs 61 workers that are distributed across seven divisions: water and sewer, pool maintenance, grounds, building, roads and infrastructure, fleet equipment maintenance and operations, and water operations.

“It’s important to note all those divisions because the way we operate now is the equipment for all those divisions are spread out around town,” said Calbi.

Several times during the presentation, the team emphasized to the council that moving all divisions to a centralized location was paramount for running an efficient and cost-effective operation.

“Everything needs to be centrally located,” said Anello.

Township Manager Michelle Meade added, “It’s important every single day for everyone to start the day in the same location. Every day, they need to get together to plan what they need to do and the amount of time they have to take to go from location to location is wasted on a daily basis. It’s a totally inefficient way of running an operation.”

“We are wasting at least an hour a day doing that,” Anello said.

The first potential solution involved keeping the existing site but renovating it in phases over three years. With this option, the town would try to maintain current DPW operations while rehabilitating the current site. 

According to the team’s presentation, while this option would have no land acquisition cost, could be done in phases and has the smallest estimated overall cost of $9.6 million, it does not meet the township’s master plan recommendations and will not provide an adequate solution for property flooding. There would also be no added space for Board of Education bus parking and continual use of satellite areas around town for vehicles and storage would remain necessary.

The second solution’s pros and cons list was similar to that of option one, as it would still utilize the current space at 235 S. Livingston Ave., however, instead of renovating, this option proposed total demolition and rebuilding.  The total estimated cost was $10 million.

The final option presented to the town was the relocation of the DPW to a new site located at Industrial Parkway.  This option is estimated to cost the township $11.2 million, which includes the $2.3 million needed for land acquisition.

According to the team presentation, the 8.4 acres which includes six buildable acres of land at Industrial Parkway would afford the DPW ample room to create one centralized location for all operations. 

Moreover, the site would meet the township’s master plan recommendation, offer room to house all Board of Education buses, consolidate all equipment into one location, provide a recycling drop off for residents, house the entire fleet of vehicles, reduce truck traffic on S. Livingston Avenue, provide better amenities to employees such as sleeping quarters and private locker rooms, and will not disrupt current operations while being built.

Meade added that this option was the most costly option when not factoring in the sale of the current DPW property, which she said had an estimated value of approximately $4 million.

Samjen presented the council with an architect evaluation and needs analysis so that they could visualize the new space. He explained that his layout took into consideration appropriate adjacencies, circulation and all things associated with day to day operations that would create a smart and functional layout.

He also cautioned that this layout was preliminary. “There is still a lot to take into consideration and there is still a tremendous amount of work that needs to take place,” Samjen said. He also called his plan a “tool for useful preliminary budgeting.”

After the presentation, council members discussed their options and asked the team if there were other things they should be considering.

For example, Councilwoman Deborah Shapiro asked if it would be more cost effective to purchase and store cots, rather than set up a permanent sleeping quarters.

“There’s the 'nice to have,' 'need to have' and then there’s the accommodation of some nice and some need. We are talking about a huge budget and we need to make it palatable to the township but make it accommodatable to work with the DPW. How can we wave those disparate interests?” asked Shapiro.

Deputy Mayor Michael Rieber asked if the township could try to sell the current property first so that “we are not sitting on it for five or six years.”

“The thing I thought we were going to have discussions tonight about was -  ok, $11 million is everything. What are some of the other options in doing a new location? What do we have to have? What do we want to have?  What changes could be made still giving the guys what they need?” asked Councilman Michael Silverman.

Calbi responded, “I don’t know what you really can take out of it.  The design is based on total efficiency.”  

“If we go in, we want to know what the ‘all in’ is going to be. We don’t want to go over budget,” added Shapiro.

“My concerns here are high cost of acquisition and low probability of sale. You (Meade) say that it’s (the current DPW site) $4 million but its only $4 million if someone is buying it,” said Shapiro.  She also brought up concerns over the unknown cost of soil mediation which will be required at the current DPW site.

Meade laid out her financial considerations for the new site.  She said that the estimated value of approximately $4 million for the current DWP site would offset some of the cost for the new location and would eliminate half the debt of the new construction. 

“We also have $80,000 available from a past bond ordinance that was authorized for a vehicle washing station…(there is) also $80,000 in public works study authorization…(and the) rest of the money would be obtained through sale of short term notes which are currently at record low interest rates.  These would be converted to long term bonds as the township retires existing debt service. This has been the township’s practice since 2008 and would have the effect of minimizing increases and keeping our annual debt service stable. We’ve been very successful in doing that in the past few years.”

The council went into closed session to further discuss options for a new DPW site.

“If we don’t explore all of our options, we would be wrong as acting council members,” said Silverman. “Our job is to explore as many options as possible for the residents of Livingston.”