OSCODA – It was standing-room only for those who attended an Aug. 28 work session in Oscoda Township, regarding the preliminary concept of a consolidated municipal services building.
Since Furtaw Field – located downtown on US-23 – has been mentioned as one of the possible sites for such a facility, the idea has drawn a mix of opinions from community members.
One of the intents of the work session, though, was to drive home the point that no final decisions have been made by township officials. Trustees have only been discussing options for a municipal center, which could potentially house the township offices, police station, fire hall, library, community center and senior center in one central location.
Supervisor Aaron Weed also said additional work sessions will be hosted in the future regarding this concept. This latest session took place in the Warrior Pavilion of Ken Ratliff Memorial Park.
Rumors Versus Facts:
Weed dispelled some of the rumors circulating around this topic, one of which is that Furtaw Field has been selected. “The decision has not been made.”
Should the center be constructed here, though, he said another claim being made is that the Paul Bunyan statue would be removed.
“Not the case,” said Weed, adding that the statue would actually be highlighted and serve as a focal point of the property.
According to Weed, speculation has also been made that the township may seek a millage to help fund the consolidated building; but, the board has expressed several times that they do not want to do this project via a millage.
“We’re going to use whatever grant funds are available – which there are grants specific for this kind of thing – and we’ve been selling off property and hanging onto those funds so that we can put it into an approved facility,” he elaborated.
Weed said there has also been talk that, upon relocating to a new facility, the current township building is going to be left vacant. “That’s not the intent.”
He said a new facility could be built on the existing township property or it could be constructed elsewhere, as there are numerous options. Either way, it is not the desire of the township to have another vacant building in Oscoda.
Need For a New Town Hall:
He moved on to some of the reasons why a new township hall is needed, starting with the fact that the existing building was constructed in the 1960s, and was done so for a different kind of government operation than what exists today.
Other justifications he listed include foundation problems/water coming in every time it rains; electrical issues; an inefficient HVAC system in part of the building; window, insulation and sewer back-up problems; lack of proper space for people to vote during elections; lack of designated meeting rooms to conduct business, especially ones large enough to accommodate the public; insufficient space for the storing of records, most of which are kept off-site; needed security improvements; lack of accommodations for those with disabilities; and inadequate restroom facilities.
The crowd was then able to hear from several department heads about their struggles with the current working environments.
Oscoda Township Fire Department (OTFD) Chief Allan MacGregor said it was around 1967 when construction began on the current fire station.
“That building was designed back then for the fire department we had back then,” he said, pointing out that this was when there was a 24/7, full-time fire department on the former Wurtsmith Air Force Base (WAFB).
“They were bigger than we were, they had the best equipment, they had the best tools,” he continued. “So we didn’t need a lot of room there.”
However, in 1992 when WAFB was no longer an active base, the OTFD ended up taking on more responsibility – and equipment. This meant that the OTFD now needed trucks to accommodate the Jaws of Life, equipment to respond to plane crashes and more.
Also in reference to the current building – which is adjoined to town hall and the Oscoda Township Police Department (OTPD) – he said there are issues with traffic. It can be difficult enough to navigate on a regular day, but this becomes especially challenging on busy, summer weekends.
MacGregor said there have been problems for the OTFD when trying to get their equipment out onto the road, as well as trying to get to the station to gather emergency equipment in the first place.
“And it just doesn’t work. That traffic is terrible,” he said. “The trucks are getting bigger and the traffic’s getting worse.”
MacGregor said he wasn’t there to give his opinion on a location preference if a new fire hall were built. He was there to explain the issues faced by the OTFD with the current setup, which includes vehicle staging.
“And I welcome any of you to come down to the station when we’re down there and see how we’re positioned in there,” he offered.
“If we need to work on one of those trucks, we can’t even open the door to work on them because they’re parked so tight together because we have so much equipment in there now,” he continued.
“In 1992 we started the dive rescue team, which is still in place today, and we’ve saved many lives,” said MacGregor. But, he added that this also brings in even more equipment that the current station wasn’t built for.
A lack of training space was also noted by MacGregor. “Basically, we’ve outgrown our fire station.”
OTPD Chief Mark David also shared some of the problems faced by his personnel with the existing facility. For one, his office is actually a closed-in hallway which used to be the entrance to the township hall, and it has no heat.
While an addition was made in the early 1990s to create more room, David said the construction done at that time was shabby at best. “The floors are falling in.”
Inadequate space is another concern, and he said the garage can fit only two of the seven police cars; the code compliance officer isn’t even in the same building; the squad room has several officers working out of the same space; and there are four people working from the sergeant’s office. “We’re running out of room.”
Further, the OTPD houses a lot of IT equipment, including computers. “Even the township government router has to be in the police department because we transmit the criminal justice information over that and it has to be secured in the police department,” according to David.
“It’s time for a change,” he continued. “Is Furtaw Field the right place? We don’t know; we’re not going to say.”
He noted that some of the security cameras are inadequate, there is only one bathroom in the police department and evidence is stored in a former restroom/shower area.
There are no shower facilities for decontamination, either. David said the OTPD recently responded to a situation where a teen had cut herself and then became combative, so the officers ended up covered in blood, with no place to clean off.
Catherine Garnham, regional manager of Fleis & VandenBrink – a contractor for the township which operates the water and sewer systems – also gave her perspective on the matter.
One responsibility of the company is its contract with Oscoda for the utility billing office, which is in township hall. Garnham said the main server that contains all of the tax, finance and utility billing information is housed in this office. “And that office should be more secure than it is.”
Also, records are stored throughout the township. So if any past information needs to be looked up which isn’t accessible on the computers, staff must travel off-site to obtain the hard copies.
“So it is difficult for us,” Garnham expressed.
“And not having the window or the office be ADA [Americans with Disabilities Act] accessible is more of an issue for us, and I think also for the other staff that interface with the public on a weekly basis,” she added.
Clerk John Nordeen said some of the items from his standpoint had already been touched on, specifically election administration.
“They move all of their equipment out to accommodate us,” he said of the OTFD, for example.
Keeping records secure and private, along with adequate space to access these documents, is another concern he shared.
Similar to previous comments, Nordeen also mentioned the issues with ADA accessibility in the existing building.
Treasurer Jaimie McGuire said there are several security issues which have been identified in her office and would need to be structurally modified.
As for the ADA concerns, she said a quote of $9,000 was obtained to replace just one door at the back of town hall with an automatic one which is ADA compliant.
“All of our public records are off-site,” she went on. When staff has to go to this location to obtain paperwork in the winter, there is no heat. “And sometimes you can’t even get the doors open out there.”
Counter efficiency is another big one for those in the treasurer’s office, McGuire continued. There’s limited space in the entry way, it can be difficult for people to get in and out and there are concerns for privacy as residents talk with staff.
“In our office there is no heating and cooling,” she proceeded. When winter rolls around, space heaters are plugged in all throughout the office.
“The roof is still leaking. It’s been fixed three times on our side of the building, and they’re still having issues with that,” she added.
Nancy Schwickert, who operates the assessing office for the township, said every shelf and counter is full, with filing cabinets stacked on top of shelves. Records are kept in the assessing office, McGuire’s office and there are a significant amount of documents stored off-site.
“We lack the space in our office for people to come in and to review documents,” according to Schwickert.
“We do not have the proper storage for large documents. Our maps are stored in the room where the copier is,” she added.
“We also do not have the space for major projects. When we have to take a lot of documentation and spread it out and review maps and analyze, we don’t have the space to do that,” she continued, noting that she sometimes utilizes a table in the fire hall. “We also do not have a location for our board of review meetings, which are mandatory meetings.”
Zoning Administrator Lorna Ganci said the issues she has faced also include a lack of space to store records, and the scrambling around that comes with same whenever an off-site document needs to be retrieved.
Security improvements need to be made, and Ganci said the space for this department is a poor layout in terms of customer access.
She is responsible for such duties as site plan reviews, and she also supports the planning commission/its subcommittees and the zoning board of appeals. According to Ganci, these groups often have to review blueprints and conduct meetings. “So I need space to be able to do these things.”
“It’s a good building, but it does need maintenance,” Weed said of the Robert J. Parks Library.
“We work in the most beautiful building that the township has; I love it,” said library director Diana London. However, she advised that there are security issues at the facility and, because of past incidents, library hours have been reduced to increase staff hours so that no one is working alone.
Further, London said circulation continues to decrease, and people have commented that they didn’t even know the library was located on WAFB.
“This is an aging facility,” said Weed of the senior center, noting that the structure is facing the same kind of problems as the township hall.
“The building has been broken into, so it has security problems,” he said. “And it’s underutilized for the size of the facility. So, the bigger the facility, the more the cost.”
Parks and Rec Director:
The township recently sold the Oscoda Community Center (OCC), and this building was discussed by Parks and Recreation Director Al Apsitis.
He advised that a lot of events were held in the OCC, but the structure was aging. Problems included a leaking roof, pipes that didn’t operate properly, issues with drainage and problems heating the large facility.
He also said people have commented about the former OCC being too far out of town and not in a convenient area.
Apsitis said it was very expensive to keep the center open, keep all the utilities going and pay staff. Further, the facility was too large for the size of the community.
“Our community has significantly changed since 1967. And the current township hall does not provide flexibility to meet changing space demands, public safety and the current level of service this community is accustomed to receiving,” explained Township Superintendent Dave Schaeffer.
“As a standard accounting practice for depreciation schedules, buildings are given a useful life of 50 years, and the current township hall is 53 years old,” he said. As for Oscoda’s town hall, even though issues were identified, some of them were never rectified due to budget constraints.
“If you continue to ignore problems for decades, you end up in the current situation, with very costly repairs,” he warned, noting that the cost of such repairs continue to climb.
“Scattered municipal buildings become underutilized, inefficient and have higher operating costs than consolidated buildings,” Schaeffer also pointed out. He said Oscoda would benefit greatly by transitioning away from multiple buildings to a modern, centralized hub acting as a catalyst for economic investment downtown.
When working through the site selection process for the possible endeavor, Weed said there are a lot of things to consider, the most important of which is public safety/access to major thoroughfares so responders can quickly get to emergencies. Other considerations include the square footage that will be needed for each use, whether the site is impacted by the contamination from WAFB and determining if the infrastructure is in place to service a facility of this size.
“Right now, we’re roughly estimating between 45,000-55,000 square feet to accommodate all of this operation,” said Weed.
He showed the crowd photos and other details for more than 30 properties in the township which could be considered. This included privately owned land, township-owned property and parcels which are government owned but not by Oscoda.
As he moved through a slide show summarizing all of the properties, there were pros and cons that were discussed for each.
For example, Weed said he thinks the former Cedar Lake Elementary building would be a great site for a municipal center, but this is now under private ownership and is not available.
Work session attendees were able to give their feedback, as well. One person who spoke was Renee Rose, and she was of the same opinion as a handful of other community members.
She suggested that two buildings be constructed – one for the police, fire and township administration, with the other housing a library and community center. This way, two smaller lots could possibly be used, and parking wouldn’t have to be shared among as many facilities.
Lynda Slaggert also said she thinks the police and fire department personnel deserve their own space. “They need it.”
As for township hall, “It’s not a representation of the kind of community I would like to see us become,” she said.
According to Slaggert, Oscoda needs to thrive, prosper and become something the community can be proud of, which takes money, effort and communication.
“Whatever we decide to do with the community center, I hope you keep this in mind: It is a community center,” she went on.
Slaggert said the OCC served the children and youth of the area, as well as the energy and vitalization of the community. The needs of these youth, as well as senior citizens and others in the area who want to stay healthy, should be met.
Lary Holland said he would like to see what the projected sales are going to be from the buildings that are being used right now. He also wants to know the past five years of costs for emergency contractor related expenditures, as well as the expected operational costs of a new building.
“I heard that the roof’s been fixed three times and still leaking. It’s sounds like contractor problems; it sounds like mismanagement; it sounds like some bad contractors. What are we doing about that?” he asked. “What it is expected to cost if we have to replace that roof again? We need to know the numbers.”
Holland said there is no doubt in his mind that consolidation is an answer for reducing costs, but what those numbers are needs to be known.
“I think that it’s shameful to hear the way that the police and fire department, and the township employees, have to work,” said Penny Campbell.
She said it’s wonderful that the township is looking to fund whatever they can with grants, as well. Even if this can’t be accomplished entirely through grants, “For heaven’s sake, I don’t want to hear about a police officer that’s been contaminated with somebody’s blood that could possibly have a disease, that has to wash themselves out in a bay where you keep the vehicles or outside with a hose. That’s just unacceptable.”
She said it is also unacceptable for community members to not have any privacy when, for instance, they want to speak with the assessor or township staff about an issue.
If there are people who are not convinced that the township needs this change, Campbell suggested that officials open up the building for tours and invite the public to see the issues firsthand.
Irene Dunn also spoke, and she said that after attending the public meetings and listening to all the facts with an open mind, she feels that Furtaw would be the best spot for a municipal building.
“Anyone driving through town would see this as the center part of town, and it would give Oscoda an identity,” she added, of highlighting the Paul Bunyan statue.
“My vision is not to see land that is vacant most of the summer, and covered with snow from November to who knows when,” she said but, rather, to see Paul Bunyan welcome those who would be able to walk or ride bikes to the library and community center, and also do some shopping at the same time.
“Change isn’t always easy, but I look forward to a brighter future for Oscoda and the families who live here,” she said, also noting that repairs to outdated buildings have only be serving as a band-aid fix. “Whatever the final decision is, I only wish the best for Oscoda.”
In reference to the costs mentioned by Holland, Weed said these will be detailed out but the township has to first understand where they want to put the building since the size of the land, the shape, infrastructure, hydrology and so on is all going to be a determination of cost.
To view the session in its entirety, search for miCTV Oscoda on YouTube.