Concord Town Engineer
Concord Public Works Building, 133 Keyes Road
Interviewed April 12, 2004
Concord Oral History Program
Renee Garrelick, Interviewer.
Ken arrived in Concord in October 1990 to work for the Engineering Department, and since 1996 has been the Town's engineer. He is leaving at the end of this month and the purpose of this oral history is to capture some of the institutional memory of some of the major capital projects he has worked on.
When I came in 1990 town government was organized, but it smacked of the "old boy network". Technology hadn't quite gotten a hold. It was run on favors and people who knew people got things done, and people who didn't had to wait. Right about the time I got here there was a big shake-up going on in town. Alan Edmonds, the Town Manager, was replaced, and Carol Fox was interim. Chris Whelan came on board and with him came sweeping changes, and a real level of professionalism throughout all the departments. Technology started taking off as he was a big advocate of technology. He was a big fan of public works coming from the town of Sandwich. It just made our job here that much easier.
I came on board as the low man on the totem pole. I was the Assistant Public Works Engineer which was a drafting position, but it was the lowest engineering position within the town. Through subsequent I guess being in the right place at the right time and hard work and people moving on, I worked my way up to Public Works Engineer.
When I arrived, the Town Engineer was Steve Curran, who had been preceded by Arthur Young and Bert Jamison. Alan Delaney came after Steve Curran. And the last one anyone remembers was Dave Perley. He was the last town engineer that was here for a memorable period of time. Almost everyone else was coming on probably for three years or less. They all had their various reasons for moving on. Some went on to other towns and some are semi-retired. I just always thought it might be something I would enjoy having been in the private sector for 10 or 12 years prior to this. I was curious as to what it was like on this side of the fence. Hal Storrs was in charge of public works when I arrived. He was actually in charge for a few more years yet after I came. Hal retired and quite a few of the other public works personnel retired — Joe Lawrence, Steve Curran and Alan Delaney. There were a number of senior people who left and it sort of left a blank canvas. Through some shrewd acquisitions I guess you could say, the right staffing, the right personnel, the department sort of came into its own.
It's a different environment now. The ‘90s sort of ushered in a wave of regulatory environment that has gotten more burdensome and cumbersome. That's one factor. Another one is that public works as a profession as a whole used to be viewed as just a bunch of guys with shovels and dirt. It's a place where you got a job if you couldn't do anything else. Quite honestly in the last ten years, it has transformed into such a professional organization nationwide. Concord is certainly at or near the forefront on all those technology, regulatory compliance, just the expectations of the people we work for. It won't do any more to just be there. You've got to earn your pay. You've got to show that you've got a worthwhile endeavor going. Quite honestly, public works is usually the first place people look to cut in times of financial constraints. Public works is an easy target. We do consume a lot of money. We don't generate a lot of money except for our user fees like water and sewer and trash collection. We spend a fair amount of money, but they are necessary, vital services. Hence when I got here, it was actually not public works, it was the Department of Community Services. There was already a movement afoot to try to change the image of public works. By calling it something else would perhaps get away from the old days of guys leaning on shovels, so it went to the Department of Public Works.
When Bill Edgerton got here in 1997, the first thing he did was change the name to Concord Public Works, not the department of. He didn't have that whole connotation of DPW associated with the organization. Even to this day he'll send back a memo in a heartbeat if it doesn't say CPW.
Concord is a very old town, and its been just a marvelous experience as well as the bane of my existence here trying to incorporate 21st century technology and solutions into a town that's over 300 years old. It's got to look old, it's got to feel old, and it has to act and function new. The regulatories aren't getting any less onerous. We're expected to service people beyond the borders of Concord -- people coming through town and visiting the town who expect a certain level of amenities and service. The trick is to provide that without making it feel like every other town. I think one of the biggest issues we have here is our bridges and our roads. They're very, very old. Some of them are beautiful such as Flint's Bridge with the four-stone arches on Monument Street. How they were built back then with horses and carts and ropes and pulleys and backbreaking labor is mind boggling. Yet nowadays we've got traffic volumes, and the size and weight of vehicles that these structures have to withstand was never even dreamt of in their wildest dreams back then. Yet if we were to say, "Well, we'll just tear it down and put up something else that will be much simpler to maintain", just won't do in this town. The trick is to make it look old and feel old and function new.
As to stone walls, we've gone to no small expense on a lot of those walls. I recall there is a large wall up on Monument Street that had a large bulge from water seeping down behind it. We had companies from Boston coming in and telling us to just ripe it out and rebuild it and do this and that. We had a very small contractor come up with a simple elegant solution where we excavated behind the wall and put in a curtain drain behind it. We took large wooden timbers and a piece of machinery and very carefully pushed the wall back in place. It was a dry stack wall and it had only bulged. It hadn't ruptured, so we managed to successfully repair the wall to retain its aesthetics and yet we implemented a solution to hopefully prevent it from happening in the future. So far, it's been almost 10 years and it works beautifully. Sometimes simple is good.
There are three major rivers in town, the Sudbury and the Assabet and they merge to form the Concord just down the street from this office, and there are floodplains and wetlands associated with them. There is encroachment. Let's face it, a lot of development has gone on and the regulatory environment which regulates how close and how much you can build on wetlands has only been in place really for the last 30-40 years. There are a lot of old homes in the development and the wetlands seem to be a factor in every major project because they are now so protected. I think that's probably the reason when the bridges were originally built way back, one of the things working in their favor there was no Department of Environmental Protection. I'm sure they made a few egregious environmental mistakes but it's water over the damn, pardon the pun. Nowadays we're not allowed that luxury. We're very tightly regulated. Most recently there is a whole national drainage pollutant discharge system in place and it's going to be, as I leave here, one of the biggest challenges the town is going to face in the coming years is how to manage and maintain the storm drainage from our streets and roadways that discharge into the wetlands and so forth. In a town like Concord we don't have a very formal collection system because of the abundance of wetlands. That is how we always have historically treated our drainage is to just let it discharge into the wetlands, which are great natural attenuation devices. But again, the regulations are clamping down on all of that. It's going to take quite a bit of time, effort and money to meet these ongoing challenges.
We try to have a road survey and repair system in place all the time so the town spends over a million dollars a year on roads. Again I keep going back to being in the forefront of professionalism. When I first got here, Concord was toying with the idea and actually had a very rudimentary pavement management system in place. It was nothing fancy. Again we still had one foot in the old boy network and roads were done when they looked really bad and therefore it must be done. There was a new move afoot with pavement management. What it does is we rank the condition of the roadway and based on its condition and usage. And this is the hardest part for people to understand, but it is actually cheaper for us to maintain a roadway that is in decent condition but gets an awful lot of traffic. It provides a far better benefit to the town than to just rebuild it 20 years hence. So once a minor street which may get only 30 or 40 vehicles a day deteriorates to the point of rebuild, it really isn't going to get that much more expensive as the years go on. We can almost grab it at any time. But you let a road like Lexington Road or Lowell Road or Main Street deteriorate to the point that an overlay is no longer a viable stopgap measure, we need to do a full rehabilitation, the cost grows exponentially.
We're rather proud of the fact that this million dollars that we sort of identified has essentially been level funded for the last five or six years, and our projections are that it will continue to be for the next 10 or 12 years. So rather than seeing a continually escalating need for funding, we think we can manage our roadway at the benchmark we use called the pavement condition index, the PCI. We shoot for a level of 80 which is equivalent to a high B if you're in grade school. The index goes from 0 to 100. Much of anything below 50 is just garbage, it's almost impassable. Much above 80 and you're talking interstate highway levels of quality. Most of the people, the residents, the taxpayers, the drivers seem to think 80 is an acceptable level for an acceptable amount of expenditure. At that point going beyond that, your benefit is not really realized by the exponentially greater amount of money you'd need to get a much higher PCI. It's something that we've done for 10-12 years and we continually update our database. We go out every year and we resurvey the condition of the pavement on about 25% of the roads so no street should be older than 4 years as far as its condition. And the database is expandable and at some point in the future we are redoing sidewalk maintenance the same way and we may springboard that into things like tracking ???, curbing, street signs, other utilities. The software we have is installed in modules and it's going to allow to track more and more things as the Government Accounts Standards Bureau (GASB) 34 regulations come into place where a town has to depreciate its assets. And I guess a lot of people don't think of roadway and drainage and street signs as assets. But they're worth millions and millions of dollars. People use them every day and drive on them, and they don't think twice about them.
The town likes to have scruffy. Scruffy is good. That's something I learned early on. You don't want it looking too new. Otherwise people won't use it, it will look urban. And this sort of ties back to the drainage. Drainage or the lack thereof is probably the prime cause of road deterioration. We have a lot of wetlands. We have a lot of wet areas and we have a lot of runoff. If you don't maintain the drainage, the roadways will certainly suffer shortly thereafter. So all these things start to come together -- the roadway program, the drainage program, the town's desire to look old and so forth, the director's current desire to eliminate uses such as curbing and curbing treatments. Again that is an urban feel. People like that scruffy country lane with its dirt shoulders. From an engineer's standpoint, I was aghast when I was first informed that this is the way they would like it. It's counterintuitive to everything I was taught on how you handle things and build things to make them last. They're saying, "Well, it's been like this for 300 years and we're going to leave it like this", and those were my marching orders.
If anything, I think that is the cornerstone of this position. An engineer that takes this job who doesn't understand compromise or is not willing to compromise will not last here. And that may the reason some of them before me didn't last so long. There are certain situations that like it or not, you need to put curbing. A lot of the downtown areas where you have sidewalks directly adjacent to the streets where you have excessive slopes, you need to have curbs to handle the runoff. And quite honestly we have an awful lot of people who really like the look of it, granite can really set off the look of a house from the street. You get people moving in from Newton or Wellesley who are used to having it there, and they have a bit of a hard time adjusting to scruffy is good. So it's an educational process more than anything. When you have 102+ miles of public way to maintain, you can't curb everything. It does increase the cost down the road because when you rebuild a road you have to reset all that curbing. So we're fairly judicious on how and when and why we use curbing. I think overall we've struck a pretty good compromise. We're trying to work with the Planning Department on their subdivision regulations so it's a give and take. They like things to look nice and neat like other towns and yet they're starting to understand that well maybe its not necessary everywhere. I think when they rewrite the regulations, there will be a slightly different understanding.
One big project that faced us was the Main Street project. On the outside it looked really simple. We were in line to get over a million dollars from the state, and they were going to come in and do the design, do the inspection, pay for it. They had another $150,000 enhancement money they were going to give us to beautify the lower section of Main Street from the 99 Restaurant up to Church Street with tree wells and benches and sidewalks. We were actually pretty excited about it. I distinctly remember the day one of the residents out there, Dorrie Kehoe, came in and introduced herself very politely, very nicely and told us in no uncertain terms she was going to be in our face the entire way. It was a formidable opposition, under the banner of some free money is too expensive to accept. And by that I mean that the proposed plan of the roadway was going to take out 14 trees of some sizable diameter, and the neighborhood was willing to fight for that. We went around and around with the state. We prepared an extremely elaborate waiver request from the Mass Highway requirements. It was incredible because most of these are four or five pages long and ours was 30 or 40 pages. We had photographs, we had measurements, we had historically archival documentation on all the historical homes and so forth, and essentially it fell on deaf ears.
In the long run, we, the town, essentially gave up well over a million dollars in reconstruction money. In a double whammy we also had to find a way to fund within our own program to rebuild our roadway. So we scaled down the level of reconstruction and we pulled the shoulders in and we wound up instead of doing a reclamation. We essentially milled off three or four inches of pavement and we profiled it. We got a lot of good out of it in that we maintained the character of the roadway, we got granite sloped edging the entire way because it is Route 62, and we obviously needed some protection for the sidewalks on both sides. That was another big issue. The sidewalks are very close to the roadway and you want some vertical separation there. But it was a compromise with the residents. They didn't want the vertical curb. They wanted to be able to park off the edge of the road, so we put in sloping edging which is mountable by a vehicle. But it's worked well. At the end opted we offered them discounted rates on planting material, and we solved a lot of shoulder side planting areas with wild flowers and bushes and so forth. And a lot of them took us up on it. So rather than parking on the road now, they have these beautiful trees and flowers in front of their homes. Overall the project was a big success and we did it for less than half or a third of the cost the state was going to pay for full reconstruction. It's not quite the same level, but I think overall the customer satisfaction, the end user satisfaction, is far greater because we managed to save all the trees and all the stone walls and save all the historic artifacts there and the road still functions as it was intended.
We started looking at this project in 1997 and that was when we got the first million dollar preliminary approval from Mass Highways and 1999 was when the Main Street waiver was denied and that's when we reduced the scope and we had to find a way to fit it into the funding of the town's road program. We put it out to bid in 2000, and we only got two bidders, one of whom we had never heard of and he was slightly lower than a well established contractor. So we decided to take a risk and rejected all the bids and put it out to bid the following spring. Unfortunately, the same low bidder got the job, and he was a handful to work with. We had to take on a third party construction inspector just to help ride herd on him. We had so much work going on at the time with the staff here, we couldn't be there full time with all our other jobs. So we had someone full time sitting on it in 2001. We also expanded the job. We did Damon Street which had a long standing drainage problem at the intersection of Damon and Conant, and we relaid all the drainage lines there so we ended up solving quite a few issues there. It was worth it in the long run. But there you go from 1997 to 2001, it was a four-year rollout and that was only the first 4000 feet from Church Street to Damonmill. I believe in three years hence in 2006-2007 is when we're planning on trying to reconstruct from the other side of the bridge at the Assabet River to the Acton town line. I suspect the ground work we laid will serve us well. I think the consistency has something to be said for that. I'm happy with the cross-section we built on the first section of Main Street. I think the battles have already been fought, the compromises have been made and we should be able to move ahead and fix that entire section of Main Street.
In 1995-6 whenever the light plant came in from the Forest Ridge substation, they trenched right down Main Street from Forest Ridge Road all the way and they have several lateral trenches which over the years have started to sink and settle. At the time we just had them overlay the roadway. I still laugh because once every spring we get a phone call from the Town Manager saying there're problems out there. And I have to remind him that basically it was just an overlay. It was like putting a Band-Aid on a head wound. The road was really in bad shape and we got away with an overlay. It was just supposed to hold us for a few years but it's going on 10 years now. I'm amazed it has held up as well as it has with 15,000 vehicles a day on it. Right now it's scheduled for our 2006 roads program. Late in 2005 we'll probably start the public hearing process and sort of rollout our plan to the public. Pending the availability of funding, I think it will be either 2006 or 2007.
Harrington Avenue was another project long in the making. It took us almost a full year in 1994 for the hearings on that roadway. There was a lot of angst that the roadway would become a cut through or a larger cut through than it was. There was a lot of pro and con argument on whether they wanted sidewalks or not. And on top of it all, the light plant had just gone through rather than cross the Assabet River and all the environmental permitting, they actually found it cheaper to run their conduit bank down Harrington Avenue, down Old Marlboro and across Route 2, thereby avoiding the Assabet River. So it was a lot of give and take. That was my first really contentious public hearing with the town of Concord. I got called more names than you can imagine. In the end I think it worked out really well. We took the opportunity to have some foresight. The two major culvert crossings we knew we had to rebuild because of the crossings the banks and so forth, and we took the opportunity to widen them slightly so in the off chance at some point in the future they want to put in sidewalks, the widening is already done at the stream crossing. Now it's just a manner of constructing the sidewalk and the rest of the roadway. It was a very tough project to construct. There was an awful lot of emotion on that roadway. There still is as a matter of fact. When we paint the center line, we still get phone calls to this day that it looks too urban. Most recently the town installed three sets of three-way stop signs on Harrington Avenue. I did not personally sign off on those warrants. The selectmen and the Town Manager signed off in my stead. At that point I think the town sort of stepped over the line in my professional opinion to use stop signs to regulate speed and traffic. It was too much for me to condone so I abstained from signing off on those signs. But the selectmen no longer need the approval of the state to erect stop signs and went ahead and endorsed that. They are up and the residents seem to like them. I think they do work and haven't caused any more problems I'm aware of. But again as a professional, I thought it was a little bit much.
Harrington Avenue as was mentioned earlier, stone walls and drainage, we actually had to replace a large culvert near the Main Street end and we took the time then not only to widen it but we overpoured the footings. When we poured the concrete headwalls, there was about a foot and a half of footing sticking up in front. We had a mason come and put mortar in the stone wall facing at both ends of the stream so when you're down looking at the stream, it looks like a stone wall and is a stone wall that behind it is reinforced concrete retaining wall. Those things aren't going anywhere ever, but they look like Concord. I hope they're there for many, many years.
Virginia Road had always had a culvert problem at Elm Brook as well. That was one of my more entertaining jobs in that the low contractor, American Excavating, I still remember them to this day. They showed up the first day and I thought it was a joke because there were three men, two machine operators and a dump truck operator. I kept waiting for the rest of the crew to show up and they didn't. Their equipment was as old as they were. It was a challenge. The Elm Brook that goes through there doesn't dry up in the summertime. It flows year round. We had to replace the entire box culvert. In the midst of that the light plant realized they were going to underground Virginia Road and we put in accommodations. They didn't know what they had to be, they just gave us a bunch of pipes and said while you're digging can you dig a little deeper and put these conduits in and put them in concrete and we'll figure out what we need later. It didn't even phase them, and we did that.
It was the first time the town used a concept called flowable fill which is a low density concrete. It sets up much like concrete but nowhere near as strong. But because it was so wet we knew we had to work quickly and after we got the duck bank in we actually poured a floor within the hard pan earth surface. We poured in this flowable fill and rough leveled it so that the actual box sections were just placed literally on a flat tabletop and they just went together like building blocks. It worked out really well. The neighborhood was great to deal with, the industrial park and the whole Spaulding Park was put out obviously. They had to come in from the other end for months. But in the end it came out really well. The following year the light plant undergrounded the street with the duck banks and then we rebuilt the roadway completely after that. One of the less stellar points in that is I wasn't really happy with the width of the roadway. Up until then the town had sort of come to a compromise that we would build a 23' roadway with 18" shoulders. Knowing that was what we wanted to do we would typically tell everybody we would rebuild a 24' foot with 4' shoulders and we would know our fallback compromise would be acceptable to us. The town engineer at the time, Alan Delaney, said, "Well, why don't we just do both, why don't we just cut that step out and we'll just go in and tell them what we want to build". Here in Concord people feel they need to take a little piece of your hide in a public hearing and get something from you. Sure enough they got us down to a 20'6" roadway, and it still bothers me today with the amount of traffic that the office park has up there. I think it's a little bit narrow. We haven't had an accident history but there's an awful lot of joggers and bikers and cars. If Hanscom Field does get redeveloped, that can be a real problem in the future.
GIS mapping has become the technology of the day. It is Geographic Information Systems. Essentially to give it a definition, if you could just see a parcels map or an assessor's map of the town, it is essentially a big electronic file cabinet, and if you click on a parcel, it is like opening a file and you should be able to see all the information that pertains there. That is the ultimate goal of this system, but we've still got a ways to go. Essentially what it does, it takes volumes and volumes of data and spatially arranges it. It gives you a graphic interface. That was one of the first very big projects in 1995 when I was promoted to Public Works Engineer. The town engineer at the time had scheduled the flyovers for the town. At that time it had been 35 years since the town had been flown aerially. It was long overdue. In fact Alan Delaney, town engineer at the time, and Marcia Rasmussen, the town planner, had put out a questionnaire which was technically called a needs assessment. They tried to figure out what the town's needs were for this new technology. It was so new that most people didn't know what it was and most people didn't respond. I think they got two responses out of the entire town.
So in 1996 Alan had departed and I was made town engineer in March, the flyover results were just coming back and the maps were coming back for proofing and checking. Tony Logalbo and Chris Whelan basically said you've got $585,000 in this account, you'd better spend it. It was a daunting undertaking. It really was. We very quickly assembled a GIS committee at Chris's request, which included members of the planning department, and the light department front loaded the money for the flyover. We had our IS department on board and we had the assessors as the building block. There was a lot of hard work proofing the plans and we started writing a request for proposals to actually come up with a system for the town. That was sort of when I first shook things up in that I wrote the RFP very open ended and most of the consultants didn't know how to handle it. They said, "Well what do you want?" I said, "That's what I'm asking you, what do I want? If I tell you what I want, why am I bothering to hire you kind of thing. You're the expert you tell me what we need." So we lucked out and we hired a tremendous firm, Woodward & Curran, who at the time was one of the leaders in GIS technology and in particular Kevin Flanders who was their lead consultant. They went through town and they spent hours and hours talking to people and asking questions. Needs assessment is notoriously known as a money loser for these firms, and this one absolutely was.
But the end result was that we knew what we wanted for the town to get going. The beautiful thing about it is we knew because Concord being so technology savvy, and the people who live here and work here had this need for technology, and we knew that the process would take years, and we were bound to come across something else that we wanted. So what really set their proposal apart was they proposed to get us the basis of what we needed but they still left us a balance in our GIS fund of almost $100,000. Sure as could be, about the time we rolled out the system, we had a laundry list of all these really neat things that we wanted to do. Our original premise was we wanted a tool that people would use. We wanted to be able to do what we do but do it better. We wanted to increase our efficiency and we wanted to be able to serve the public better. We wanted to do what we do, but to do it better. The proof is in the pudding. We had an assessor's application which used to take days to prepare, and it now takes a matter of minutes. Another click of the button and that goes into a mail merge and you've got your mailing labels. It's amazing we've got a rudimentary level let alone the really, really intense geographic analysis you can do as far as land uses and mapping and so forth. We've since taken that $100,000 and parlayed that into what is essentially an award winning system. We've got it on the web. That was one of our major goals. We had an inkling even back then that we knew we had to go on the internet to make it worthwhile. We started out with an interim step. We put it on two kiosks, a public access kiosk in the town house and one in the planning department, and they were extremely well received.
I still remember the first night we hired a new GIS coordinator. Something again was thought about getting a half time person. I didn't think we were going to find somebody. There are very few schools offering this as a course of study. It is very tough to find qualified people. We managed to grab one from the town of Sharon who was essentially being under-utilized there. She was basically a glorified map maker. I ran into her at a conference and said I had a position. She came on board, Jenn Petrie. I still remember the very first town meeting. I said why we don't just take the computer over there and we'll set it up in the hallway outside the auditorium and you'll be there a couple of hours. She was still there at 11:30 that night and she was there the second night and there was another line. People were hooked, and when I saw that, I thought we've got to go public with this and get it out there. In 1999 we rolled out our GIS with things like an abutters tool and we started doing some water quality tracking. In 2000 we were voted one of the best GIS systems in New England. We had 35 users within town staff that were self-trained. The Wastewater Management Committee started using our applications which is now the genesis of the Wastewater Master Plan. We had the intranet version of the WebGIS, and we started using it inhouse. We sort of wanted to debug before we threw it out townwide. In 2001 we launched, and we took third place in the National Geographic GIS contest, and we were against some pretty heavy hitters, Department of Interior, City of Chicago. It's been great ever since and people are using it more and more. In fact, I just the other day reviewed the four-year capital plan and I'm excited about it now. There are really some great things coming down the pike. We've got some great plans as far as how to make it easier, more accessible, more flexible. We're getting a lot more bang out of it than a lot of communities are.
When Jennifer relocated, it was quite a loss, but we did another search. We went through an unbelievable number of applicants and we found Matt Barrett. He has his masters degree from UNH and he'd been working with a regional planning agency in Stratfordshire, NH and he was responsible for maintaining 17 communities. I thought if he can handle 17, he might be able to handle Concord. He came the year before last. He's been phenomenal. He had some big shoes to fill when Jenn left, and he knew that. I think he did a very smart thing, he laid low and kept everything running very, very well, and has proven his mettle technologically. He actually may be technologically speaking a little sharper than Jenn, and his people skills fit quite nicely.
The revamping of the public works site is probably one of the projects I'm most proud of. When I first started here at the town of Concord, I interviewed in a construction trailer which is now the planning building which used to be the water and sewer building. In 1993 we moved back into the Keyes Road building. There had been a plan afoot for a number of years to do some kind of reconsolidation. The building housed engineering, the director, inspections, health, administration, water and sewer was in the next building. There was a phased plan where they started with the renovation of 141 Keyes and the original plan actually had all of us moving from 133 into 141. The more we looked at it we knew it wasn't going to work. There wasn't enough room for what we had let alone any growth. So we started thinking about what if we rehab 133 and 135, we could bring water and sewer back from their Grant Street/Love Lane building, and it could be one big happy family on the campus. So we started working with incumbents of a lot of positions at that point, Dan Monahan, long time Natural Resources coordinator, had left and Markus Pinney was in his place. Judy Chanoux had gone and Marcia Rasmussen was in her place. Dave Perley and Kevin Hurley were still involved with the site planning but Hal Storrs was gone and Bill Edgerton was here. So we had a change over in a number of major players, and again with that sort of professional attitude we looked at the site again and said let's make this one work. It was in 1996 that the first step started when we pulled the fuel tanks at the fire station and the fuel tanks here. It was horrifying some of the things we saw. What should have been a very simple tank pull wound up costing us $200,000-300,000 when all was said and done as far as soil remediation and contamination and so forth. We now have an above ground storage tank because we're on a flood plain. In 1997 when Bill became director of public works was when it sort of got kick started. In 1998 was when we did the overall.
We went to town meeting with a plan which took us essentially four months from start to finish. Once we got over the hurdle of okay we're staying here, people started being realistic in their expectations. We contracted with a consultant who did some conceptual plans for us. Then we went out in approximately three months and had construction documents. It had everything we could possibly want. It had new office facilities, we upgraded the garage facilities and a barn to store our off season equipment, we had plans to build a school maintenance facility and get the school facility out of the garage bay which was an eyesore. The buses didn't fit, they were too long, they were too tall. I still remember seeing the mechanics laying on their backs with their feet sticking out the garage doors trying to work on these things in the rain. We went to town meeting and we got most of the money we needed. We were about $350,000 short. We had to choose one thing to cut, and we cut the school bus maintenance building in and of itself. In 1998 we overhauled 133 and 135 Keyes as well as the site with the parking lot and so forth, all the while keeping it in operation. Granted the light plant had moved out, water and sewer were still over at Love Lane, but we had full blown engineering administration, highway, grounds, cemetery, parks, trees, and planning in 141 with building inspections, health, historic districts. We had to keep all that in service including ripping up all of our parking lots. It was one hell of a job. When we started tearing down the walls, we started finding some things in this building that we hadn't known prior to that because being occupied we couldn't do any constructive testing. We started finding 2 x 4s across the tops of doorways, old plow blade cutting edges being used for structural members, but we configured the office space, we put in modern amenities in each PC system. We were more efficient in our organization space. We used a lot more natural lighting. Right now there is a big movement for green buildings. I guess we were sort of a little green before our time. We tried to utilize much of that technology as possible. When this building was finished at 133, we moved in and we gutted 135 and rebuilt that for water and sewer.
This place has been great. We have manmade wetlands that we use for treating our stormwater runoff. We've got split rail fences protecting our wetland areas. We've got some planting. The handmade signs are up. As far as a public works facilities goes, it's a head turner. We've had many, many people come in here and they can't believe it's actually where we do stuff. They've gone to buildings where they have met with administrators and then say, "Where are your town garages?" "Well, they're just around the corner, just keep walking." They can't believe how well it's run. That was finished in 1998.
Then in 1999 we went back to town meeting on behalf of the school committee and we got money for them to build their school maintenance facility behind the parking lot behind the high school. I oversaw that as well. It's beautiful. It's simple and elegant and the mechanics absolutely love it. It's clean, well lit, and heated. They can lift the buses off the ground and they can work on them. No longer do they have to drive buses through the center of town to change a wiper blade or to add fluid or something. They're right there where they park them. If a bus has to be taken out of service, they just drive it 50 yards in back of the parking lot and tell them it needs service. From a safety perspective that's quite an enhancement.
For this site we took David Perley and Kevin Hurley's plans as a starting point. We assembled a team inhouse. We tried to grab everybody from all the major divisions. We had water and sewer represented, highway department, parks and trees, we had a very talented engineer, Dana Leggett, who was working with us, and we actually hired her away from the consultant who eventually wound up being the architect of record for the building. She actually did all the site remediation work. We did it inhouse knowing that nobody knew our business better than us. The architects had some great ideas and we had all the base mapping that had been done with Kevin and Dave and rather than being contentious and stir all that up, we said let's start with this and possibly make it better. I think a great example is what Bill refers to as our best pocket park in the back. It is a stunning little piece of property right along the riverbank. By regulation, we couldn't go any closer. In fact from the time we started until we finished they enacted the rivers act and it was supposed to be 200 feet back, but by that time we had struck a compromise that if we go 150 feet, we could make some other enhancements on the site. The NRC agreed to that and I think the results speak for themselves. It's a great place to launch a canoe. We've had town picnics there. We've had several public works functions there. We had at least one barbecue there in the summer. It's just a nice spot to sit there. My fondest memory of that is we still have the old telephone pole with the martin's house on top and it looks like to fits there now because it's a piece of nature, if you will. Its original purpose was to tell us how high we could pile snow banks when we used to use this site as the snow storage facility for the winter cleanup downtown. When the snow got as high as that telephone pole, we had to start sending it to the river. That is no longer allowed so we no longer do that. But we sort of left the pole and the birdhouse as a reminder of how far we have come.
The third jewel in my triple crown was the closing of the landfill. That was another project a long time in the making. That was when Alan Delaney was here. He was actually the president of the New England Chapter of SWANA. He was very much into solid waste and trash disposal and so forth. At that point they realized the trash was no longer a viable commodity in town. The regulations were getting tighter, costs were getting more, subscription rates were being split with private haulers and so forth. In 1996-1997 they decided that was it. We weren't going to landfill any more. So we pulled together some plans. We knew we didn't want it to look like what Bill calls a deflated football. It so easy to drive down a highway and see a spot that was a closed landfill, big oval shaped things with a flat top on them. We didn't want that. The site is like most landfills, it's stuck out in a corner of town. Most towns were notorious for putting landfills out in the middle of nowhere next to a wetland because nobody wants it in their backyard. Concord's was almost as bad. We didn't have wetlands per se but we did have Goose Pond and Walden Pond and we were in the middle of the state park, which made it a little contentious to begin with. We had an awful lot of input because of the Walden Woods project. We had the Department of Environmental Management. We had a local town constituency. Everybody seemed to have an opinion on that site.
So we retained our consultant of record, Weston & Sampson, and they started pulling together plans. We told them we didn't want it to look like a closed landfill, but we also knew we needed to have other functionality there. We mentioned the snow storage. Prior to the closure, we were actually permitted through the Department of Environmental Protection to use the next phase as snow storage facility. So that was incorporated into the plans. We had already started to take our storm debris there. Whenever we had big blows or ice storms, we needed a place to store trees and limbs that come down until we got to the chipper and do what we needed to do with it. We had recycling that was getting to be very big. We had earth products, compost and so forth. We had all these ideas in our head. In-between time by the way we'd like to try to make this thing sort of fit back into the landscape. We've got Walden Pond on one side and Walden Woods, and then you've got Brister's Hill on the old DeNormandie site that Walden Woods people bought back in the 1990s to try to tie them all together. We actually got a donation from them in the amount of $160,000 to do some ornate, large landscaping on top.
With those goals in mind, we sort of set out with this ambitious project and we had to convince DEP that we could do something different looking. At this time they had just finished closing Spectacle Island. For those that have been out there, it's a marvelous park now. It was possible from technological breakthroughs rather than using clay to cap, they now use a flexible membrane liner, very, very thick and it doesn't puncture very easily, it's flexible and we could just pile dirt on top of it. And that's what we did. We've got from 9 to 15 feet of earth fill on top of our closed landfill. We shaped and graded the landfill that we need technically to meet the requirements to get the drainage, the gas venting, all the things you need to do with closed landfills, and then on top of that we sort of built a facade of a more rolling landscape, a more natural look with some sizable trees. We used an indigenous form of grass to seed the slopes. We've got a tremendous drainage system there that the site is hydraulically constrained. Our runoff actually runs into the center of the site and off the site.
We had some downsides. Walden wanted us to use a natural grass swale system to convey the water which for the most part we were able to use but some of the major downshoots that take the collected runoff, we tried it, and when the drains cleaned in August, it wound up like $6000 worth of toilet paper at the bottom of the hill. We said sorry, but it's not going to work. As much as we want to accommodate your wishes, it still has to function from a public perspective so we went back to these little rock swales. They are not necessarily ugly but they're not quite as soft. There's a little bit of an edge to them. When all is said and done, we got it capped and closed. We've got the gas tanks hidden amongst the trees. We've manifolded the gas collection system. And we've got this marvelous earth product section.
We did some need things. We used to be a mess every spring and even worse now with the snow storage because there is a lot of organic materials in there. We excavated all those out and we mixed them up with the compost. We took all that add mixture and we just spread it on all the gravel banks that have been prepared for the next phase and we just sprayed it with seed mix. Today they are vibrant green, seeded side slopes. In the meantime, we drained the pipe drains properly. We put our byproduct of milling streets, the asphalt chips, spread out and they sort of congeal to a crust if you will and that allowed us to maintain the grade and the slope and the impermability of the snow runoff into the drainage system as it was intended to do and we can drive trucks on it year round now. We've got paint recycling going on down there. We've got storm and brush disposal down there. We've got compost and leaf dropoff. We take Christmas trees down there. We have a massive composting pile, and we give it back to the public. They come in by the carload and take it away. It is a very well received, well run, very clean system.
We had opportunities to really change the landscape. At one point in the early design stages, the Big Dig Committee from Mass Highway wanted to give us from between 300,000 and a half million cubic yards of material from the depression of the Central Artery. We seriously considered it. We were actually going to fill in the big hole as it where. Then there was some question about the liability of the material and the potential liability of pollutant and so forth. In the interim Chelmsford took it off our hands.