Relocating the borough DPW to a new, purpose-built facility off Route 130 will help streamline its operations, officials say.
By Matt Skoufalos | November 22, 2023
“I call it ‘The Alamo,’ this building,” said Collingswood Public Works (DPW) Superintendent Jeff Whitman of the Atlantic Avenue facility where his work days begin and end.
The nickname stuck in his mind, Whitman said, partly because its signature façade reminds him of the venerated San Antonio landmark, and partly because the structure itself feels as rugged as the besieged Spanish mission.
“I really feel like this place was a World War II bunker,” Whitman said. “It’s an old, old place. It’s outdated.”
Through the years, the list of repairs necessary to keep the garage operational grew from concerns like a leaky roof or a malfunctioning boiler to structural issues that were less easily resolved: poor insulation, a lack of ventilation, and spotty cellular and Wi-Fi signals.
“The main garage, we’ll have heat out there, but no air conditioning in the summer,” Whitman said. “The connections here are terrible. And it’s just time.”
For years, Collingswood Mayor Jim Maley has described a long-range plan to relocate the DPW garage from its current site along Atlantic Avenue in the heart of the borough out to the site of the former M&E Marine Supply building on Route 130.
After the public safety building project was completed in 2020, the focus of the borough government shifted to the public works project. Once the garage is demolished, as the former police headquarters was, Collingswood will be able to explore broader infill redevelopment behind its Haddon Avenue shopping district.
Whitman, who started working with the borough DPW in 2006, said the department has simply outgrown its space. In the nearly 18 years he’s been there, its inventory of tools and equipment has spiraled as the spaces in which to store them have filled up.
Functioning as a mechanical repair shop, oil disposal station, and vehicle refueling site for five municipalities, the Collingswood Public Works garage also houses the borough print works, which manufactures local roadway and traffic signs, and the Collingswood Bike Share program.
It’s effectively the attic, basement, garage, and toolshed for the whole of the community.
“Everything we use through the year, most of it’s here,” Whitman said. “There’s a lot of things that come and go out of this building.”
Although Collingswood DPW maintains a few satellite facilities, including a compost site on Comly Avenue, and garage bays with grass-cutting equipment at Knight Park, the borough plan to construct a new Public Works hub at the intersection of Harrison and Sloan Avenues is expected largely to streamline all its operations from a single location.
In addition to a two-story, 12,248-square-feet office building and a nearly 10,000 square-feet, five-bay garage, the plans include a 3,248-square-feet, vinyl composite, pre-fabricated structure that will provide housing for outdoor equipment like stump grinders, a Bobcat utility vehicle with specialized attachments, snowblowers, and more.
“It’s exciting to finally have at least 90 percent of our equipment in one spot,” Whitman said. “It’ll be a lot easier to keep inventory with all of our stuff.”
Situating operations within sight of the borough compost facility on Comly Avenue should also help keep an eye out for illegal dumping, which Whitman said can be a problem there. And with work crews dispatched from a location that also houses the bulk of their equipment and vehicle fleet, Whitman expects his team’s job performance will become more streamlined as well.
“Right now, everything’s so sporadic,” he said. “It’ll be really nice that everything will be localized less than a minute away.”
Collingswood Borough Administrator Cassandra Duffey said the municipal government is angling to keep the total cost of the project around $11 million, which is up from earlier projections prior to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, when the borough had authorized $7 million in borrowing towards the project. Another $4 million in bonding was recently approved at its November commission meeting.
Of that $11 million total, $9.3 million accounts for construction, with the remainder allocated for furnishings, telecommunications equipment, and soft costs, Duffey said. A larger-than-usual portion of that was dedicated to preparing the site due to the compaction and condition of the soil there, she said.
Additionally, the project has benefited from utility infrastructure work on Harrison Avenue, which Duffey said “will help set the stage” for construction of the DPW facility.
Local architecture firm Thriven Design drew up the plans for the project, construction of which was awarded to McDonald Building of Norristown, Pennsylvania; the work will be managed by Remington and Vernick Engineers of Haddonfield.
Duffey said the project should break ground in 2024, after which the construction could take 18 months to two years to complete.
(For those who fear the new building will lack the singular charm of its predecessor, she said there has also been discussion of salvaging Whitman’s “Alamo-style” stone marquee for incorporation within the project.)
“Public works is very much the backbone of any municipality,” Duffey said. “We’re going to put it in a place that has better access and better amenities for them. It’s a win-win.”
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