Burke Street project to be shelved

NASHUA – The $49 million proposal to turn the city-owned Burke Street property into a central Department of Public Works facility is likely to be abandoned with Mayor Jim Donchess withdrawing his support.

‘This is not a viable project,” Donchess said Friday. “I can’t support it at this point.”

This week, the Board of Public Works voted against bonding $13 million to cover the first phase of the Burke Street project, part of a $28.5 million bond proposal that also covers the development of a Main Street performing arts center.

Donchess still plans to support the performing arts center proposal at Monday’s Budget Review Committee public hearing, but he no longer thinks the Burke Street project is worth pursuing. The city bought the property two years ago at a cost of $4 million. Donchess said that then-Mayor Donnalee Lozeau’s administration presented a much less expensive plan to turn the property into a central DPW site at the time the deal went through.

“The Board of Aldermen bought this property based on the estimate of $10 million to $15 million,” Donchess said.

The city planned to redevelop the two-story office building at the site, and use the building to house DPW offices. There was enough space that the school district was interested in taking a floor in the building for its administrative offices. The property also includes a warehouse facility that was originally thought could house all city DPW vehicles. Things changes after the city bought the property and started serious estimation work on the development.

“The price tag went out of control,” Donchess said.

It was determined that the warehouse would not be suitable for city vehicles due to interior pillars being too close to allow the vehicles to maneuver. The building also lacks proper drainage to allow for washing the vehicles indoors. Additionally, the roof is deemed insufficient. The options for the warehouse were down to retrofitting the needed fixes, or razing it and building a new garage-type facility. The city learned that building a new facility would cost little more than fixing the existing building.

At the end of the estimation process, the total pricetag for the property was $49 million, not counting the $4 million the city already paid to buy the property.

“That’s a radical, drastic change,” Donchess said.

Donchess is not able to end the project completely on his own. With the proposed bond resolution making its way through committees, it will come back to the Board of Aldermen for a vote next month. Aldermen can vote to amend the $28.5 million proposal to remove the money for Burke Street.

While Donchess thinks that the DPW does still need more space, he’s not willing to push for the proposed plans at this time. He said the city will keep the property, as it still is adjacent to the wastewater treatment plant and may prove vital when the plant needs to be expanded at a future point. As for the rest of the nearly 30-acre property, Donchess said he is keeping the options open.