Highway Garage Plan Chosen

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Photo by Lester Smith

The proposed new highway garage on the site of the derelict Wicks Lumber Yard on East Street South would make a favorable impression on travelers entering Suffield from the south.

At their meeting on February 13, the Suffield Board of Selectmen took a significant step in their effort to move the Highway Garage operation away from Ffyler Place. They voted to enter negotiations with one of the three proposals for a new highway garage that have been studied in recent months. All three proposals were discussed at the meeting, and new presentations about two of them were heard.

In prior years, the Town had considered a proposal to buy the existing Moosehead Logging headquarters building on Austin Street, adapted for use as the highway garage. This plan was first considered in 2015 and was approved by the Selectmen and the Board of Finance in 2016, but did not go forward. Similarly, a proposal to build the garage on part of Town-owned land on South Street (Route 75) did not survive.

A new plan was considered last summer. This was proposed by Kevin Casey for the owners of the derelict Wicks Lumber Yard near the end of East Street South (Route 159). The owners did not want to sell the land; instead they proposed to build an efficient building to satisfy the Town’s specifications and lease it to the Town. A preliminary design for such a building had been worked out with Town officials, and the concept seemed on the road for continuing consideration. But in a November Selectmen’s meeting, the Austin Street property was again discussed with interest, and the matter was tabled for subsequent discussion.

Then, in December, a new possibility arose when developer Mark O’Neill proposed to build a garage to meet the Town’s requirements on property he owns on the forested hill just south of Stony Brook and east of East Street South. Access to his site would be from the existing Town road serving the Suffield sewer plant, with the gate on that private road moved to a spot just past the garage entrance.

A builder as well as a planner, O’Neill described the special construction system he proposed. Like the Austin Street proposal, this offer would be an outright sale to the Town, not a rental. The selectmen adjourned without a decision, asking O’Neill to return with more information.

At the February 13 meeting, Town Planner Bill Hawkins gave the Selectmen a critical review of the Austin Street proposal, judging that wetland on the parcel would interfere with the construction of “cold storage” space lacking in the existing Moosehead building, as well as the required salt shed, which each of the proposals would require in addition to the garage itself. Hawkins commented that the proposal was not very responsive to the Town’s concerns.

Then O’Neill repeated his new building proposal, somewhat changed in detail. One of the changes was to include an additional entrance from the sewer plant road, to facilitate Town vehicles’ use of the facility’s fueling station. He offered the relative invisibility of the site as an asset unique to his proposal.

Following O’Neill, Kevin Casey, still representing the owners of the old Wicks lumberyard property, repeated his previous proposal, with one major change. The owners now offer to build the new garage as a “turn-key” sale, rather than a rental. The price was $3.4 million.

The Selectmen then voted to go into executive session to discuss the highway garage options, including Town Attorney Derek Donnelly, Finance Board member Chris Childs, Highway Department foreman Mark Cervione, and J. R. Richardson, assistant foreman of the highway crew.

Upon returning to the open meeting, the Selectmen voted unanimously to authorize the First Selectman to negotiate the purchase of the proposed new highway garage as described by Kevin Casey. In accordance with required procedure, the purchase itself would require approvals from the Finance Board and a Town Meeting.

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