Nashua officials must be realistic

I consider it an honor and a privilege to serve the citizens of Nashua in my capacity as a Commissioner of Public Works. I take my oath of office very seriously. The sad truth is that our Public Works facilities are in deplorable condition, riddled with health hazards for employees and visitors. It is clear that something needs to be done to improve working conditions for DPW employees, but exactly what the best plan might be is (or should be) a matter of some debate. Careful consideration of current and future obligations really must be discussed before going ahead with issuing bonds.

Under the prior administration, the Burke Street facility was purchased to house the Division of Public Works. There were no financial facts presented regarding the cost of transforming the building to a working Public Works facility. Adequate “homework” wasn’t done, and the city lost money on the Burke Street facility. (I was one of two public officials who voted against the purchase due to lack of information). Ultimately, the cost to transform the facility was determined to be $56 million. The plan was rejected by the Board of Public Works three years ago.

Recently, the quest for a new facility took a surprising turn. After little discussion, and just two days after the municipal elections, the Board of Public Works was presented with a new plan, which was voted on in the same night. (I voted no on the plan due to lack of information. The vote was 3 to 1). The board voted to spend $10 million to build a new office facility at the landfill with a hope that in the future the Street Department and the Parks and Recreation Department will be able to move there also. Unfortunately, that hope isn’t supported with a well thought out plan. What’s more, the contractor hired to find a solution for office facilities estimated off the top of his head that it would eventually cost an extra $50-60 million to add the Street Department and Parks and Recreation Department to that facility. So, in the end, the total cost will be around $70 million. In addition, there was no traffic study done to analyze the impact of adding the entire Division of Public Works to the landfill facility. The only traffic analysis done was to figure out the impact administrative staff would have on West Hollis Street. The analysis didn’t include the impact that large trucks from the Street Department and the Parks and Recreation Department would have at the landfill and on West Hollis Street.

The $10-million “plan” does nothing to address significant health, safety and hazardous working environment issues at the Street Department and at the Parks and Recreation Department. We have no plan to improve those conditions for our rank and file AFSME union employees who are out on the front lines. My objection to the $10-million plan is that it doesn’t address our health and safety issues. Any plan for Public Works facilities needs to address health and safety issues, needs to have a price tag and needs to have a long term maintenance plan.

Nashua city officials need to be realistic and come up with a well thought out, well funded plan. This “fire-aim-ready” approach won’t work to solve this problem. We’ll simply end up with another very expensive Band-Aid that won’t stop the bleeding.

Tracy Pappas serves on the Board of Public Works and resides in Nashua with her husband and three children.