June 16, 2019

Brewer enters deal for public works site

BREWER – After some 40 years at the edge of the Penobscot River, it appears the city’s public works garage is on the move.

During their monthly meeting Tuesday night, members of the City Council unanimously agreed to enter a purchase agreement with Randolph Spain Jr. for a nearly 4-acre parcel on Green Point Road. City officials are eyeing that site as the future home of the public works department. The purchase price, if the city ultimately decides to buy the parcel and the building on the land, would be $212,000.

The idea, city officials say, is to eliminate one of the eyesores that blights the city’s riverfront and to free the city-owned site for a more appropriate use.

Moving the public works operation off the waterfront has been a longtime goal. City Manager Stephen Bost said finding a new home for Brewer’s public works operation was one of the first directives the council gave him when he came on board in early 1999.

Barring any unforeseen snags, the city plans to begin work to expand the existing building next spring and summer. The entire operation could be relocated to Green Point Road by the fall of 2002.

The city’s search for a new public works site, however, predates Bost. For more than a decade, city officials have been discussing the need to replace the roughly 40-year-old facility squeezed onto a 1-acre lot at the end of Hardy Street.

In 1990, councilors took a bus tour of potential sites for a new public works garage. Five years later, city officials still were seeking a suitable site.

During the past year, the effort has taken on a new urgency. Last summer, the city hired a team of planners, many of them nationally known, to help hammer out a master redevelopment plan for the waterfront, the strip of land that runs along the river from just north of the Penobscot River Bridge southward to the Orrington line. The target area is now known as Penobscot Landing.

The redevelopment plan, adopted last November, calls for the current public works site to be cleared for a proposed 200- to 300-seat performing arts center. The center would be called the Penobscot Landing Arts Yard, or “The PLAY” for short.

“After nearly a decade of talk, I am pleased that we have finally taken the bull by the horns and committed ourselves to moving the garage off the waterfront,” said Deputy Mayor Donna Thornton, who served as chairman of the citizen-led Waterfront Advisory Committee.

During a series of public sessions about the waterfront revival effort, residents and businesspeople often cited the condition and location of the public works garage as problems that must be addressed. Further, the existing facility poses environmental risks to the river with its fuel depot, chemical storage area, sand storage shed and heavy equipment within yards of the shoreline.

Noted Ken Locke, environmental and public works director: “We need to move off the waterfront. Having that building on the water is a problem and it’s clearly not the highest and best use for the site.”

Though many sites have been considered over the years, city staff consider the property on Green Point the best proposal to date.

“It’s centrally located, near the dump, visually buffered and not near any existing residential areas,” Bost said. “And while the building on the site needs to be expanded to meet our needs, every last inch of what’s there can be effectively utilized by public works in the future.”

Councilor Larry Doughty was among those who wondered why the city hadn’t instead decided to move public works to the considerable acreage it owns behind its landfill site. According to the city team involved in the site search, a look at that land suggested that the site would be more expensive to improve to the level needed to house the public works operation.

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