An effort to secure a site for a future Department of Public Works (DPW) facility has failed after four proposed sites were rejected by Town Manager Paul Bockelman as “not being in the best interest of the Town.” The site bids were received in response to a Request for Proposal for the siting and construction of a new public works building to be completed by June 2023.
According to an evaluation matrix obtained by the Indy, the bid deemed most “advantageous” was a 20-acre parcel at 300 Venture Way in Hadley, owned by computer-based testing company NCS Pearson. At a sale price of $20 million, however, cost was likely the reason for rejection since it equates to the entire budget allocated to the project.
The bid that was ranked second of the four was a 38-acre parcel just northeast of Sunderland Road and Route 116, currently used for farmland but zoned Professional and Research Park. Local developer Barry Roberts, as part of a consortium called Sunderland Road North LLC, purchased the site in December 2019 for $400,000. At that time, the Town had the right of first refusal to acquire the property but declined. The asking price in the DPW bid was $2.9 million for a 30-year lease or $4 million for a 30-year lease purchase. According to an article in the Daily Hampshire Gazette from February 2020, Assistant Town Manager David Ziomek said only 9 to 10 of the 38 acres are buildable, based on a preliminary delineation of wetlands.
The other two bids, both deemed “not advantageous,” were: a 20+ acre parcel on Meadow Street, west of Route 116, priced at $1.8 million and owned by Donald LaVerdiere and Leigh Andrews of Amherst Enterprise Park, and a 15-acre parcel on Rocky Hill Road in Hadley, south of the UMass Hadley Farm, priced at $1.2 million and owned by RBabb Realty LLC.
In a report to the council dated July 12, Bockelman wrote that “staff are now reviewing additional options.” The Indy reached out to Bockelman and to Town Council President Lynn Griesemer for clarification but did not receive a response.
Finding a suitable site for a DPW facility has proved challenging due to the nature of its use, the size of parcel needed for the facility, and the desire for a central location. Two years ago, exploration of a site on South East Street, offered by Amherst College at no cost, was rejected following strong objections from residents of the abutting Misty Meadows neighborhood.
The current 4.25-acre DPW location at 586 South Pleasant Street has been described by town officials as the preferred site for a future Fire Station Headquarters, meaning a new DPW facility would need to be completed before construction of a fire station can begin.
A 2016 report by consultants Weston & Sampson proposed a facility of about 79,000 square feet on a minimum of 8.5 acres for an estimated cost of $38 million. The DPW building project budget has since been capped at about half that amount and now must conform to the Net Zero Energy Buildings Bylaw. Although this fiscal restraint would imply that the scope of the project would be similarly restricted, the Request For Proposal issued in April stipulated a minimum parcel of 8.5 acres, and preferably 15 or more acres, with sufficient space for buildings of approximately 79,000 square feet.