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Voters OK Garage Plan In Chelsea

Selectboard to Discuss Details, What to Do With Old Structure

In a ballot vote this week, Chelsea voters approved the purchase of land for the eventual replacement of their 1927 town garage. (Valley News - Ben Conarck)

In a ballot vote this week, Chelsea voters approved the purchase of land for the eventual replacement of their 1927 town garage. (Valley News - Ben Conarck)

Chelsea — Following last week’s approval by voters to buy land on East Randolph Road for a new town garage, the Selectboard will meet Tuesday at 6 p.m. to delve into more of the details and also discuss what to do with the old garage, a perennial source of contention at Town Meetings.

In a 196-84 vote, Chelsea voters last Tuesday approved a plan to buy the parcel for the new garage for $162,000. The town will pay off that amount using a 10-year bond, which will cost $18,000 the first year and incrementally less each year after that, adding about 1.5 cents per $100 of valuation on the tax rate.

If the old garage, built in 1927 and located in the middle of town, is removed, it will free up space at Heath Field, a recreational area just south of the town center where the highway department currently stockpiles its sand for winter maintenance.

“I’m very pleased the community has come together with an overwhelming vote to locate these items at a spot other than Heath Field, and that we may finally be able to move forward and find conclusion to this dilemma,” Selectman Michael Button said on Friday.

As for the 86 year old garage the town uses, Button said that subject has not been resolved.

“That is currently open to debate,” Button said. “No decision has been made and there’s been very little discussion at this point.”

While some in town shied away from weighing in on the controversial town vote on Friday, Charlie Crocker — who was stopping by Cushman’s office — said that Heath Field was designated to serve as a recreational area and should be devoted entirely to that purpose.

“It should be a recreational field, it shouldn’t be a damn pile of sand,” Crocker said. “You’re driving into Chelsea and it’s kind of nice, then you see Heath Field ... There’s all this junk — a junkyard in the middle of it. It’s crazy.”

Crocker added that the field has gotten better over the years, and more effort should be focused to making it a more suitable area for play.

“Sand can go anywhere,” he said. “That’s my thought.”

Reflecting on the diversity of opinion in Chelsea on the matter, Cushman was quick to add, “Ask 900 people in town, and you’ll get 900 different answers.”

The bond to purchase the land will not affect the town’s reserve fund for the eventual construction of a new garage, which Button said contains more than $200,000.

With sparse but ornate concrete fixtures, the old garage is intriguing from a historical perspective, though it’s clear to the naked eye how it might not be the friendliest work environment.

Button listed poor insulation, a leaky roof, mold in the ceiling, fire suppression constraints, insufficient workspace, narrow garage doors, and an uneven gravel floor as some of the problems with the building.

“These are all things that the town’s insurance company has notified us of and would like us to put together an action plan to correct,” Button said. “Our action plan is essentially to build a new one.”

Button added that the mold issue, which town officials discovered in late July, might have helped finally sway voters to support building a new garage.

According to Button, the town’s armada of highway vehicles includes a grader, backhoe, loader, two, ten-wheel dump trucks and one smaller dump truck. He said a new garage, depending on its size, might allow the town to store all of that equipment indoors.

“Is it a wise decision to leave all that out in the elements?” Button said. “Some people would say it’s not such a big deal, other people say you should be able to house it and keep it out of the elements if you can.”

Button said that 20 years ago, the initial concept of Heath Field was to have the recreational fields, a town garage, and the sand pile at the same location.

“Over time, the opinion in town changed and we never got the garage built,” he said. “This is the final conclusion where the community has said we want that to be recreational ... let’s put everything related to the highway somewhere else.”

Ben Conarck can be reached at bconarck@vnews.com or 603-727-3213.