ELYRIA — City Council is once again discussing the future of the central maintenance garage, a building that Council members, maintenance supervisors and a consultancy firm all said Monday has outlived its usefulness and is too small to continue to serve city vehicles.
Council last discussed the matter of a new garage in February 2018. At the time, Council members were told the building on Garden Street, dating to 1972, still has its original heating and cooling infrastructure and sits on a landfill that is beginning to settle, making it unstable for further construction.
MS Consultants, a Columbus-based engineering, architecture, planning and environmental consulting firm that counts among its clients the Ohio Department of Transportation and the Youngstown Water Department and builds all of American Electric Power’s maintenance garages, was tasked to produce a design for the new facility.
Anissa Neider, an architect with MS Consultants, told City Council city workers are operating in "half the space needed to keep up with the growing city of Elyria."
The current facility lacks office space, which is now rigged up from mobile units, and basic/cold storage consists of shipping containers. New equipment has to sit outside in the elements, limiting its life. Rental costs for storing out-of-season equipment and police evidence are in the tens-of-thousands of dollars.
Senior Fleet Manager Joe Strohsack said the current facility, at approximately 35,000 square feet, should be expanded to 90,000 square feet. New above-ground diesel fuel tanks would prevent the costly future removal of underground storage tanks.
Strohsack said parking all of the city's expensive work vehicles indoors -- a new sanitation truck costs $325,000 and a new Class A plow truck about $180,000, he said — would greatly save on maintenance costs and extend their life cycles. At present, only one-quarter of the Water Distribution Department's vehicles can be parked indoors, he said.
City workers also can't currently wash their sanitation trucks every day, after they get caked with mud dumping at landfills and run through "bad things" in the mud, Strohsack said. Continuing to wash them outdoors could get the city in trouble with the EPA, officials said.
Also having all eight of Strohsack's mechanics in one central location would allow him to cross-train them. They currently operate out of three separate locations, he said.
"We have to know how to fix everything from a chainsaw to a $1.2 million dollar fire truck," he said. "We need room to work."
Issue 6 made the purchase of new equipment possible and that equipment is part of how the city got through the weekend's snowstorm and its aftermath without significant downtime for mechanical problems, Strohsack said. But without indoor storage, it's like how the Elyria Police Department is called to "serve and protect" the public just as Strohsack keeps the motors running.
"I'm starting to not be able to do that," he admitted to Council, inviting all its members to come out and see the conditions at the current maintenance facility.
Councilmen Mark Jessie, D-3rd Ward, and Jack Cerra, D-7th Ward, served on an ad hoc committee exploring the idea of a new maintenance garage and worked with Strohsack on the matter.
The city has yet to work out what the project will cost or how it will be funded. Finance Director Ted Pileski said that information will be presented at a future meeting of Council's Finance Committee. Doing the project in two phases also will be easier on the city's budget, Jessie said.
If the new facility is built, the property on which it currently sits likely still will be used for storage. The existing road salt storage dome will remain at the site on Garden Street.
The city also discussed building a new facility in 2011 and paid a consultant to look into the matter, but balked at the multi-million dollar cost and no further steps were taken for several years, according to Chronicle-Telegram archives.
Neider promised MS would not break the city's bank on the project.
"By no means are we designing 'The Garage Mahal,'" she joked, borrowing what she said was a colleague's turn of phrase, a play on India's majestic Taj Mahal.