Amherst commissions study of Department of Public Works headquarters, future needs

AMHERST — A nearly 100-year-old building originally constructed to store trolley cars used to bring passengers between Amherst and Holyoke continues to serve as the Department of Public Works headquarters.

Whether the DPW will continue to use the building at 586 South Pleasant St., and the improvements needed to make it a fully modern facility, will be the subject of a feasibility study beginning this winter.

The town last week formally sought requests from companies to examine the original 1917 building and more recent additions, as well as the entire site, and develop a space and needs plan for the Department of Public Works.

DPW Superintendent Guilford Mooring said that the $70,000 study, funded through a Town Meeting appropriation authorized several years ago, will provide an analysis of the existing conditions and a design for an expanded building.

The study will also provide information about the department’s operations, said Town Manager John Musante.

“That will give us a clearer sense of what we need to do for the DPW facility and the needs for dealing with our trolley barn,” Musante said,

Deficiencies previously identified include limited space for storing the more than 40 trucks and other pieces of equipment the department uses and limited office space for employees.

The DPW has made its home in what was originally built as the Holyoke Street Railway car barn since the late 1930s, said retired Superintendent Stanley Ziomek. The site was purchased by the town in 1934 following the closing of the trolley line, according to “The Railroads and Trolleys of Amherst, Massachusetts” history book written by retired town engineer James Avery Smith.

Ziomek said additions were put on the original building, including one in the mid-1980s, but the town has always been careful about preserving the building’s historic aspects, including leaving the original trolley tracks intact inside the space where trucks are stored.

Whatever the study recommends, Ziomek said he would like to see the town keep the site for the DPW, observing that other studies have suggested moving the DPW to the former landfill on Belchertown Road.

“I hope the town keeps it because it’s a memory of the trolleys,” Ziomek said.

The study comes at a time when planning for two other building projects are also beginning. One is the $1 million study for the possible expansion and renovation of the Wildwood School, built in the 1970s. The other is a $50,000 planning and design study that could lead to enlarging and improving the Jones Library, which was last renovated in the early 1990s.

Musante said the town also has two studies, already completed, focused on the need for a new fire station in South Amherst that would likely replace the Central Fire Station.

In 2010, former Town Manager Larry Shaffer endorsed an $11 million plan that would have replaced the downtown fire station, which is functionally obsolete because many of the new fire vehicles are unable to fit inside, and a new South Amherst fire station would better serve people living and working there. Since then, this project has annually been included as an item on the Joint Capital Planning Committee’s spending list, although it has not been brought forward to Town Meeting for action.

Once the DPW study is complete, Musante said town officials, working with school and library officials and the Joint Capital Planning Committee, can better prepare for a financing and sequencing plan for these four potential building projects. Mooring said a subcommittee that will include representatives from the Public Works Committee will meet with and assist the consultant who is hired.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.