Originally published by StateCollege.com by Geoff Rushton on November 25, 2019.
Ferguson Township will move forward with construction of a new $6.8 million public works facility after the board of supervisors last week unanimously approved bond financing and awarding contracts.
The approximately 13,000-square-foot facility will be located on the township's campus at 3147 Research Drive and will address a need that was first identified in capital planning in the early 2000s, township manager David Pribulka said. The existing facility was built in 1982.
Planning for a new public works building was deferred in 2008 when the township decided to address a more pressing need for expanded administrative offices, especially for the police department.
"Keeping in mind this building was identified as a needed addition almost 20 years ago based on previous conditions that existed at the time, it’s important to note we have grown considerably since then," Pribulka said. "Suffice it to say our needs have grown considerably since this new building was originally identified as a priority for the township."
Since 2000, public works has added more staff and vehicles. The police department, which also uses the facility, has expanded its fleet as well.
The new two-story facility will have three service bays, a wash bay, fueling station, break room, locker room and second-floor open office space.
It will be designed for sustainability and energy-efficiency. Stormwater management will be kept on site and use natural and manmade best management practices. The building will be oriented to the south to maximize natural lighting and the flat roof will accommodate future installation of solar panels to achieve near net-zero energy consumption — aligning with the township's commitment to reach net-zero greenhouse emissions by 2050.
The new building was initially projected at $4.5 million but public works director David Modricker said that figure was based on his own research before design and bids. Greenfield Architects initially returned a cost estimate of $7.1 million, but that was reduced by removing several design elements without sacrificing functionality.
What was originally planned as an automatic wash bay was "pared down significantly," to a manual wash station, Pribulka said.
"This facility will directly extend the life of costly capital equipment because as we all know winter is the enemy of vehicles in this state," Pribulka said.
He added that the existing fueling station is "in dire need of replacement" and that several alternatives were considered: a fleet fueling arrangement with a private supplier and contracting with another municipality. However, the township already receives favorable fuel pricing through its competitive bidding process, Pribulka said.
"Second and more importantly is that we’re a first responder organization, meaning that it’s critical for our employees, particularly public works and police department, to have access to a reliable source during a crisis or disaster recovery situation," he said.
Pribulka said that while he and township staff recommended the $6,845,000 bond issuance for the project, he recognized it was not a decision for supervisors to make lightly and could have an impact on future projects.
"This may mean the township may not be readily able to absorb future debt for potential projects while the debt service on this bond is being satisfied," he said.
But the need for a facility is only expected to grow and the 25-year bond interest rate of 2.45 percent is favorable, he said. Moody's Investors Service gave the township a AAA gold credit rating, the best possible, for the bond issuance. Chris Gibbons, of Concord Financial, said it is only the second time in 31 years he has worked on a bond issuance that received a AAA rating.
Annual debt service on the bond will be about $389,000. The proposed 2020 township budget reduces real estate transfer tax to the transportation improvement fund from 60 to 40 percent. That will result in about $290,000 in additional discretionary revenue that can be used in part to offset debt service, Pribulka said.
The township also has no outstanding debt except for regional parks loan obligations.
Resident Galen Dreibelbis said he was concerned that the debt would result in a tax increase, something the township has not had in 11 years.
"It’s easy to have a $7 million bond issue. That’s a picnic. Paying it back is a different story," he said.
Pribulka, however, said that while he could not fully predict other factors down the line that might result in a tax increase, no tax increase is proposed as part of the project.
"We are confident based on our projections that we will be able to finance the project with existing revenue streams and efficiency of operations without the need to recommend an general tax increase," Pribulka said.
Dreibelbis also said it appeared the building will have a "poor orientation" solely to accommodate solar panels. Ross Ansel, of Greenfield Architects, said the building site was shifted about seven or eight degrees to capture sunlight, but that he does not believe it resulted in any additional cost.
Ralph Wheland, a township resident and planning commission member, said the township is planning for Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) permitting and that he is concerned about what as-yet unknown costs that may incur. Pribulka, though, said the township's stormwater committee and consultant have done a good job of projecting what the MS4 expenses will be and that those can be funded with existing revenue streams.
Dorothy Blair, president of the Nittany Valley Environmental Coalition, congratulated the township on its incorporation of sustainability elements into the design.
"I think it’s not the first but a very large movement toward meeting your commitment to 2050 and zero carbon," she said. "We are rooting for you as a township to do this."
Peter Buckland, a former supervisor and current College Township resident, also praised the project for its environmental initiatives, adding that the township is on solid financial footing with a strong and growing tax base.
"This project embodies the value of the board, the will of the citizens of Ferguson Township and will stand as a symbol of Ferguson’s leadership on innovation, health and environmental stewardship," he said.
Supervisor Laura Dininni said she appreciated the environmental components of the project, but that most importantly the building will serve a critical need.
"One way I have personally always looked at this is as a very essential piece of infrastructure to provide all of the most important services we provide to our residents," she said. "I am not looking at this facility as some sort of pinnacle showcase for green design, although I’m certainly not opposed to green design. Always, I’ve looked at this facility as something that’s going to provide for our needs in the future."
Supervisor Lisa Strickland said she was concerned because the cost had risen since the most widely discussed projection, but she recognized the functionality of the planned facility is needed.
Chair Steve Miller said cutting down the cost would essentially be cutting down the usefulness of the building.
"What I’m afraid would happen then is the way you make it significantly less expensive is you don’t do the fueling station or you don’t do the wash bays and then what you end up doing is three years from now, when our fueling station has got to be replaced, you’re replacing it. At some point we’d say we have to build a wash bay because our trucks are rusty," he said.
Construction on the new facility is expected to begin in March with completion anticipated in September.