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Public works -- The heart and soul of a community

Published 1:19 pm, Friday, May 16, 2014

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  • The new Town Hall construction is on budget and on schedule to be complete by spring 2015, Michael Pastore, Director of Public Works in New Canaan, Conn., said Friday, May 9, 2014. Photo: Nelson Oliveira / New Canaan News
    The new Town Hall construction is on budget and on schedule to be complete by spring 2015, Michael Pastore, Director of Public Works in New Canaan, Conn., said Friday, May 9, 2014. Photo: Nelson Oliveira

 

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When snow hits New Canaan, it usually doesn't take long for the roads and sidewalks to be cleared.

Michael Pastore, director of the town's Department of Public Works, credits his approximately 55-man crew for the "efficient" performance in the winter, but he said his team works hard all year long.

In order to thank and recognize the efforts of the crew, the Board of Selectmen has proclaimed May 18 to 24 as National Public Works Week in New Canaan.

The American Public Works Association has promoted the week since 1960 to educate the public on the contribution of public works departments, such as "planning, building, managing and operating the heart of our local communities and building the quality of life," according to the association's website.

New Canaan has observed the week since 2009.

"The reason why I think we do this is to recognize the effort that all our people put in every day, and to let the folks that work for us know that we appreciate the job that they're doing," Pastore said.

From snow removal to bridge repairs and road pavement, for instance, the Department of Public Works is known for its efficiency and quality, Pastore said.

"I think the department as a whole has a good reputation in town," he said. "People appreciate the fact that when the snow comes, we have a lot of people getting the snow off the roads."

The department oversees the town buildings, the Highway Department, the transfer station, the wastewater disposal plant, the town engineer and Parks Department, among others. With all included, the overall operating budget for the upcoming fiscal year is $7.8 million.

Pastore said the department is in good shape with its current projects.

"Bridges are good in shape, buildings are coming along and we've made great strides (on drainage)," he said.

The Town Hall renovation, one of the biggest projects in recent times, "is doing well," is on budget and slated to be complete by April or May 2015, Pastore said. The foundation should be finished this week, and a "steel skeleton" should be done by the end of June, he added.

"A year is not bad for a building of that size," Pastore said. "It's going to be a nice building."

The renovation at the firehouse is two-thirds complete. The facility's lower and main levels are mostly done, while the upper level will be renovated in the next few months, Pastore said.

When it comes to the Locust Avenue parking lot expansion, a project that has been deferred to fiscal year 2017 and disappointed many in town, Pastore said the delay was the right decision.

He noted that closing the 153-space parking lot and Town Hall's at the same time would leave people even fewer parking options downtown.

"It's an active project, but it's not being pursued just yet because Town Hall is taking the time and the space," Pastore said. "I have no question that it's going to get done, it's just the timing."

Repairs to the Jelliff Mill Road bridge also are on hold, or as Pastore put it, they're "in the black hole of permitting." He said the two-year project is waiting for environmental permits from the state and likely won't start for at least another year. The department recently finished rebuilding Huckleberry Hill Road.

In April, the Town Council agreed to bond two major roof projects for the department. Pastore said the $225,000 roof repair at Waveny Park's Carriage Barn and the $340,000 roof repair at Lapham Community Center likely would take place over the summer.

The department's biggest upcoming expenditure will be a sewer treatment, which is part of a new Environmental Protection Agency mandate to reduce zinc and phosphorus in the water. The nearly $7 million project is on a tentative budget schedule for fiscal year 2017.

Pastore said it's hard to compare New Canaan's public works budget with those of other towns. The size of each town and the way government is organized both affect a comparison.

"Overall, we do well. No question about that," Pastore said. "We do a lot of work in-house. Other towns use a lot of outside contractors. They might have smaller staffs, but they're spending more with contractors."

First Selectman Robert Mallozzi said the department is one of the most efficient when it comes to budgeting.

"We do value and appreciate so much what Public Works brings us. It's a phenomenal crew to work with," he said at a May 6 Board of Selectmen meeting. "These guys manage their budget so beautifully."

Pastore and Assistant Director of Public Works Tiger Mann agree New Canaan is ahead of similar towns when it comes to road maintenance and snow removal.

"I think we do a much better job," Mann said.

One of the department's advantages is the years of experience some of the crew members have.

"Most of them have been here on average 20-plus years, some 30. And that matters," Mann said.

Pastore noted that the snow removal work in New Canaan is organized into 13 sectors, which he said helps speed up the process.

Both Mann and Pastore have been with the department for 14 years.

"Public works is an important part of the country," Pastore said. "People speak about infrastructure and they recognize that word. But it all comes from public works."

noliveira@bcnnew.com, 203-330-6582, @olivnelson