Amherst renews search for DPW headquarters site

  • Amherst Town Hall GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 3/28/2021 7:32:31 PM

AMHERST — A search for a site on which to construct a new town Department of Public Works headquarters is underway.

Several months after town officials rejected a 27-acre South East Street location that would have been leased to the town by Amherst College, a legal advertisement is being published so Amherst can purchase or lease, or make some other arrangement, for a property within five miles of downtown.

A site is needed as the town plans to convert the current DPW site at 586 South Pleasant St., where operations are run from an historic 1916 trolley barn, into a new $15 million fire station. That fire station would better serve residents in South Amherst following a relocation from the 1929 station in downtown Amherst.

Once a site for the DPW is identified, a $20 million project can advance that might be complete as early as June 2023.

Proposals for a site have to be submitted to the town accountant’s office by April 23 at 2 p.m. These will be evaluated in May and the council could vote on a recommendation in June.

By October, the hope is to have schematic designs completed. The Town Council in June 2022 would then have to give borrowing authorization for the project.

The previous identified site, on South East Street north of Stanley Street and Tamarack Drive, was offered by the college as a 99-year lease for $1. But residents who live nearby raised objections to the DPW’s possible presence in the neighborhood.

Meantime, Town Manager Paul Bockelman will be recruiting residents to serve on the Town Building Committee to oversee the design and construction of both the DPW and fire department buildings. That committee would replace the DPW/Fire Station Advisory Committee, which started in 2016 and studied the needs for both departments.

The project costs for both are less than when feasibility studies were done a few years ago, but Bockelman said the estimates remain relatively in line, even with what might have to be budget caps. “We’re not going to get everything we wanted when we did the original feasibility study,” he said.

Two years ago, the fire station was projected at a $22.8 to $24 million cost, and the new DPW headquarters at between $35 and $38 million, meaning both have been trimmed significantly.

Bockelman said officials have to look at the financial side and what the town can afford to pay as four major building projects loom. The others are a new or renovated elementary school at a cost of $80 million, with the town responsible for about half that cost, and the town possibly contributing $15.8 million toward the $36.3 million renovation and expansion of the Jones Library.

When the projects begin, it will be the first time since the police station opened in 1990 that Amherst has undertaken a new town building, while the most recent renovations were to the Jones Library in 1993, Town Hall in 1998 and Crocker Farm Elementary School in 2003.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at

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