Cape's public works moves into bigger facility at cheaper cost

Sunday, February 19, 2006

In early February 2005, Cape Girardeau city officials knew they needed a new public works building.

But the price tag, more than $9 million, was prohibitive. The money wasn't available.

Compounding the problem, the building that housed Public Works Department operations at 219 N. Kingshighway needed extensive work, up to $2 million, just to make it usable for long-term operations.

But quick action to purchase 94,000 square-foot building at 2007 Southern Expressway gave the city has a newer, much larger facility for far less than even the cost of repairs at the old location.

"We were probably talking many years down the road," public works director Tim Gramling said. "It was such a large number to be funded and it wasn't in any immediate plans for the city."

And the $2 million in repairs were "things just to keep you in the building," Gramling said.

The city purchased the old Jim Wilson auto parts building for $1.6 million. It is a facility with 80,000 square feet of warehouse space converted to bays to house, fix and maintain city vehicles.

The old facility was sold for $1 million. And 12 acres of land on Corporate Circle that was slated as the city of the new public works building will be sold as well, reducing the net cost even more.

City officials also moved the recycling processing and drop-off buildings to the new site and has constructed a wash bay for city refuse trucks. All in all, the changes mean better service for residents, Gramling said.

"We are doing the same things, but there are big benefits from the new building," he said. "We have our vehicles and supplies under one roof. And any time you can keep things in a controlled environment, it is much less harsh on them.

"Most of our equipment before was kept out in the cold, the heat and the rain, and that takes a toll on equipment."

A year on the market

The new location was on the market for more than a year when city officials became interested, Gramling said. With no buyer in sight, the owners had decided to put it up for auction.

And although a new public works facility would have looked different, the warehouse meets all the departments needs with more space than the city would have contemplated building.

In addition to leaking roofs and holes in the walls, the city had outgrown the old facility, Gramling said. The city began using the building in 1978.

"It was supposed to be a temporary move when we first got in there, a five-year move. But it was 27 years later and we were still down there. We had outgrown the size there; we were locked out with businesses on both sides."

And the traffic on Kingshighway increased to the point where just entering and leaving the facility was difficult at times, Gramling said.

The office space at the old facility was just shoehorned in, he noted. "It was basically little cracker boxes of offices. There was no storage space to speak of and there are records we are required to keep by law and no place to put them."

That meant any records searches were done by traveling across town to city hall, he said.

"It makes it a lot easier to manage things and, if there are any issues that come up with citizens, all the management is here at this building," he said.

All services under one roof

All of the city's public works functions are being run from the new building, Gramling said. Street maintenance, water maintenance, sewer and storm water facilities maintenance, solid waste collections, recycling and fleet maintenance for all city vehicles is done there.

The city didn't just buy the building and move in. Loading dock entrances had to be enlarged to accommodate big city trucks, fuel pumps and tanks had to be installed and a lot of concrete had to be poured to prepare the site for use.

But much of that work was done by city employees, a move that saved the city tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of dollars.

Housing the public works department in a newer building will mean a quicker response in case of a major natural disaster such as an earthquake, Gramling said. Cape Girardeau could experience severe damage if an earthquake the size of the 1811-1812 New Madrid quakes struck.

The old facility was unreinforced masonry, the type of building most vulnerable to quake damage. Gramling said he had visions of his trucks, equipment and repair facilities buried in rubble just at the time they were needed most.

"We are one of the main response departments and we would be stuck digging ourselves out," he said.

More modern facility

The new facility is much more modern, and although it might not be built according to the latest seismic standards, Gramling believes it will be likely to survive a quake.

At the old building, he said, "large trucks would roll by and you could feel the vibrations in the building."

Ease of operations and consolidated facilities are the big benefits to the city, Gramling said. He can't point to any large cost savings from the move, but believes overall it will mean better service to residents.

"It kept us from taking something away to do those repairs and took a burden off the budget," he said. "There is so much development going on and we are partnering with many people. I can't say there is a direct correlation, but some things may have been much more difficult if we had to spend money on repairs on that building down there."

335-6611, extension 126

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