Charlotte has been in a hurry this year to build a new town garage after a late-night fire destroyed the 100-year-old building on Church Hill Road that housed all the equipment used to maintain its 80 miles of roads.
Although the battle for the building wasn’t always smooth sailing, town officials ultimately proved successful.
The fire was a devastating blow for the road commissioner Junior Lewis who had rented that building for nearly 25 years. “We lost a grader, a dozer, tractors, a sweeper, four snowplow trucks and all kinds of supplies, tires, spare parts and all of our tools,” said Lewis.
The winter immediately following the blaze in December 2021 was anything but easy for Lewis. The town was lent four snowplows from the state for last year’s snow removal, but with no building in town large enough to store four plows, Lewis was forced to leave the trucks exposed to the elements outside.
“The trucks were left outside and we did have them plugged in so most of the time they would start, but the air compressors — all these trucks have air brakes — there would be enough condensation that they would freeze,” said Lewis. “Even though they started, you couldn’t move them until you dragged a space heater out and let it heat up.”
In order to begin the long process of construction for a new building, voters saw two articles on a Aug. 9 ballot — the first authorizing the construction of a new garage and the second authorizing $1.5 million in funds. The two measures were both approved by more than 700 votes. The first article passed 1,168 to 327, while the second article was approved 1,173 to 306.
With secured funding for the project in place — a voter-approved $1.5 million bond, highway reserve funds of $500,000 and $1 million in American Rescue Plan Act dollars — the town sent away for bids on the project with a $3 million dollar price tag only to be met with disheartening news in October that only two companies submitted bids, each of which were well above the price cap.
Just a month later, chair of the selectboard Jim Faulkner and town administrator Dean Bloch, were able to negotiate nearly $800,000 off a bid by Farrington Construction of Shelburne and the company’s final proposal came in at $2,957,749 with just a few minor changes to the building’s construction. The significant cost shift came when the duo suggested that constructing the building out of wood would be significantly more cost effective as opposed to the previously proposed steel framed building.
The building is planned to be fossil fuel free, and the roof of the building is solar panel installation ready, which will be an entirely separate project for the town. Until then, to heat the garage, the design incorporates a wood-fired boiler along with an HVAC system “with the understanding that we will migrate away from that in time when we can put the solar panels on,” explained Faulkner.
The building will be leased on a yearly basis to the road commissioner, a position that Lewis has held for 23 years. Although he has no plans to retire, officials are aware of the potential for eventually being forced to create a municipal road commission.
“At this particular time, and with the way Charlotte is developing, someday we are going to have our own municipal road service. This is a baby step going forward, so at least we have a building now,” said Faulkner, “The town garage is the first step.”
Should things go according to plan, the town can expect to see the new town garage completed in October at the 54-acre town-owned property between Route 7 and Greenbush Road.