The public school’s transportation department is now operating in rooms without water and warmed solely by space heaters.
That’s because the city shut off heat to the majority of the building Monday and turned off the water flow Tuesday to about 50 working city employees, including the transportation manager Kathy Verga and a group of bus drivers and mechanics.
Those employees, in and out of the office on a daily basis and often training in another room and resting in a break room between shifts, are getting their warmth from four space heaters, and must walk about 350 feet down the hall to a bathroom still open in the portion of the building used by public school administrators.
Verga said the department’s present location within the Fuller school building has been ideal since they moved in two years ago, with plenty of room for storage of cleaning supplies and bus parts, a space for a break room for drivers, bathroom facilities for the drivers and staff, a safe area to park buses, and training space for mandatory sessions.
”This is the perfect space for us. It’s more than adequate,” said Verga.
The mayor’s office, however, decided to shut down the majority of the building in order to slash $150,000 to $200,000 in heating and water fees off a $300,000 annual bill, according to City Hall Chief of Staff James Duggan. Duggan said the city already relocated many of the departments that had been located in that portion of the building. But with 24 buses, a large staff, and a need for training space, the city schools’ transportation department poses a more difficult conundrum.
Still, Duggan said, the city will find a space for the department, whether it be in the Fuller School building or in another city-owned property.
”If a scenario doesn’t work out, then the fall back would be the part of the building that’s occupied,” Duggan said. “It’s not a turn key situation. People (in other departments) will have to be moved ... and things will have to be changed around.”
A conversation about where to situate the transportation department has been ongoing for months, according to Duggan, who vowed to ensure that the department’s space is properly and safely heated and up to compliance codes until a new space is found.
“We are not going to put anybody in a dangerous situation. If there is any doubt in the building inspector’s mind whatsoever, I will make sure I will work with the superintendent (to relocate the department),” Duggan said. As for the bathroom, said Duggan, “it’s just a matter of walking down the hall to the part of the building where the bathroom is.”
City residents will have a say in what becomes of the Fuller School in a referendum next November, city councilors decided last week.
Councilors voted 8-1 to put the question regarding the building’s use to a non-binding referendum question on the 2013 municipal ballot. Voters will choose among three options: relocating all municipal offices to the Fuller complex, “under one roof;” reverting the Fuller building back to use as a public school; or leasing or selling the property.
Greg Verga, a city councilor and proponent of the referendum and of using the building as a municipal office complex, said a referendum is the only way to get a clear picture of what residents want.
Greg Verga, however, also noted that the Fuller building has been a good fit for the transportation department and should remain so.
“If you have people already at Fuller School it’s sort of silly to push them out,” he said.
Marjorie Nesin can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3451, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.