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Sandy Journal

Rebuilding Public Works facilities will save critical time and money

Dec 02, 2022 05:54PM ● By Sarah Morton Taggart

The current Sandy City Public Works fleet storage facility only has room to store half of Sandy’s snow plows at a time. (Sarah Morton Taggart/City Journals)

By Sarah Morton Taggart | [email protected]

Every minute counts when roads are covered with ice and snow. But outdated facilities delay the deployment of Sandy’s snow plow fleet.

In January 2017, a four-alarm fire burned down more than half of the Sandy City Public Works building at 8775 S. 700 West. Even before the fire, the building was falling apart.

The facility was built in the late 1970s, when the population of Sandy was around 40,000. Sandy now has more than 95,000 residents, which means more fire engines and police vehicles to protect residents and property, more parks to mow, and more roads to plow.

Before a snow plow can begin to clear streets, it must be warmed and filled with ice-melting materials.

“If they’re sitting outside and we put the salt or sand on the truck, it freezes and clumps and can’t get out through the spreading machine,” said Shane Pace, Sandy’s chief administrative officer. “So these vehicles have to be indoors.”

During the winter, there is room to store 12 snow plows—half of the fleet—indoors. When needed, the large vehicles are slowly maneuvered out of the garage one by one, then the rest of the plows are driven inside and prepared.

“The drivers lose time loading and unloading the barn,” said Michael Gladbach, director of Sandy City Public Works. “If we had the fleet facility built out, the guys could just come in and drive away. They would all be out on the road an hour earlier.”

Gladbach had been on the job for just four weeks when the fire happened.

“I got the call at two in the morning,” Gladbach said. “There was an electrical fire in a dump truck. We lost half the fleet.”

New administration offices were completed in May 2019. Displayed in the lobby like art is a large chunk of melted metal recovered from the dump truck that ignited the blaze six years ago. The clean, light-filled rooms are a stark contrast to the remaining buildings where critical work takes place.

Smoke-stained insulation is still visible in the ceiling of the garage where mechanics repair and tune up everything from humble lawnmowers to shiny new fire engines. The building is not large enough for all the vehicles needing work, so the ones queued up to be repaired are parked outdoors.

“The ladder truck is too big to be worked on inside,” Gladbach said. “The mechanics have to work on it outside. They set up a tent for shade.”

Even vehicles parked inside the fleet maintenance building are vulnerable to rodents that can cause extensive damage to electrical systems.

“You can see where we’ve tried to fill in the cracks where mice get through,” Gladbach said. “Mice, rats and rock chucks (yellow-bellied marmots) live in the walls.”

The fleet shop has no fire suppression system, the locker rooms and rest rooms are not heated or air conditioned, and the area where parts are stored floods during heavy rain.

The other work spaces are also less than ideal. The customer service officer works out of a refurbished tool shed, though Gladbach reports that she is comfortable and enjoys the space. The sign shop occupies an old garage. All of the electronic equipment stays indoors, but templates and surplus signs are stored outside because there’s no room for them inside.

“After the fire, a space requirements analysis was conducted to assess and determine needs,” Gladbach said. “The goal was to right size the facility for existing staff, equipment and tasks, as well as allow for minimal future growth.”

The new Public Works campus is completely designed with two more phases needing to be constructed. Phase 1 (offices, conference rooms, locker rooms, storage and a break room) has been built, as well as a new fuel station that became operational in November. Phase 2 will replace the smoke-damaged fleet maintenance garage, and Phase 3 will build storage for vehicles like the snow plows and house the sign shop.

In October, the Sandy City Council allocated $7 million to build Phase 2 of the Public Works facility, $1 million to design Fire Station 31, and $3 million to design Alta Canyon Sports Center.

The city currently has access to approximately $17 million for capital projects: around $8 million in cash and $9 million that will be raised by selling city-owned properties.

Phase 3 of Public Works will cost around $12 million, though that might go up if construction is significantly delayed. In the meantime, storing vehicles outdoors costs the city up to $32,000 each year in lost productivity, increased idle time and other maintenance costs, according to Gladbach.

Rebuilding Fire Station 31 will cost another $12 to $13 million, and the council has narrowed down two possible designs for a new Alta Canyon, each costing up to $40 million or more to construct.

Could the city rebuild Public Works and the fire station right now with the cash on hand?

“We could come close because if we build the fire station we’ll still have a chunk of money,” Pace said. “We would probably recommend turning public works into four phases and building Phase 3 with the money we have just so we can get more vehicles in storage. And then at a future date do a fourth phase of Public Works.”

“Everyone is united in wanting to replace all three facilities,” Pace continued. “What’s debated is when to fund them and how to fund them. The mayor does favor constructing the fire station and Public Works with existing funds and have the citizens vote next November on a bond for Alta Canyon.”

In order to complete all three projects, the city will need to take on some type of bond. Of the three, with Alta Canyon there is an option to sell naming rights and apply for Zoo, Arts & Parks (ZAP) funds.

“Some council members would prefer to do a general obligation bond, which means it goes to a vote, on the fire station,” Pace said. “And take the cash on hand and put it toward Alta Canyon Sports Center. I support the mayor’s philosophy that public safety should be the first priority and that’s where the existing funds should go.”

“In the end,” he added, “the city council will allocate money toward where they feel it should go.”