Fate of downtown parking garage remains uncertain

  • The lower portion of the parking structure, accessed from Exchange Street, has also been closed to prevent injury to motorists and damage to cars. Chunks of concrete have been falling from the upper deck. Staff photo/Greg Vine

  • The South Street entrance to the upper deck of downtown Athol's parking facility has been closed to motorists due to structural concerns. Staff photo/Greg Vine

For the Athol Daily News
Published: 10/21/2021 1:23:26 PM
Modified: 10/21/2021 1:23:33 PM

ATHOL — At the Oct. 12 meeting of the Downtown Vitality Committee, Chair Mary Holtorf provided an update on developments regarding the downtown parking facility located in the municipal lot off of Exchange Street. Both the upper deck and the ground level spaces, she informed the committee, have been blocked off to motor vehicles.

“We haven’t heard anything about when, potentially, the parking deck will be removed,” she said. “It would be nice if it was sooner rather than later, but I think it’s going to be a Town Meeting issue.”

Athol Planning and Development Director Eric Smith said that, in his understanding, any use of town funds in excess of $20,000 requires Town Meeting approval.

“It has to go through the capital planning process,” he said. “So, I think the DPW is planning to move that through capital planning. I know that to rebuild it is — I think they’re talking a seven-figure cost.”

“No need to rebuild it now,” said Holtorf, “but I’d really like to see it gone anyway. It’s got to go, and I’d rather see it go sooner rather than later.

“I guess, now, there are a fair number of people who are wondering where they’re going to park when the winter parking ban hits. Because wherever they live, they park in the street, but when it would snow, they would park under the deck out of the way of the snowplows.”

She noted that Public Works Director Dick Kilhart and Assistant Director Paul Raskevitz recently approached the Selectboard with a proposal that parking permits for those who want to use the parking lot in winter months purchase a sticker signifying they have permission to park there. Cars would need to be moved sometime early in the morning to allow snowplows to clean the lot. A similar plan is in the works for another downtown lot.

Kilhart told the Athol Daily News that the decision to move ahead with sticker parking was endorsed by the Selectboard and that details will be presented to the board in early November.

“We said, ‘You probably ought to close down that underside because chunks of concrete are falling down onto the bottom, and we don’t want people to get hurt or cars get damaged.’ That’s where we came up with the plan for closing it and re-striping the area. We’re going to make a couple of winter overnight parking areas, both there and at 100 Main St.

“The board,” Kilhart continued, “talked about a nominal fee for a permit, or sticker, that will go on their mirror. They have to live in that neighborhood in order to be able to access those overnight lots. They move their vehicles out of there by seven or eight o’clock in the morning so we can plow it and clear it during a snow and ice event.”

Those who fail to move their vehicle on time would find it ticketed or, perhaps, towed.

“It satisfies everyone’s need,” he continued, “except there’s no cover there — people used to park their cars underneath there — but it’s a short-term solution for this problem.”

Kilhart said the final decision on what to do with the parking facility simply comes down to dollars.

“Of course, you’d have to have funding associated with a knock down,” he said, “and that will come, first, when we get into capital planning — which would be November and December — and then, obviously, Finance Committee. So, it really is a decision the ‘higher-ups’ will make and based on that decision we’ll begin to move forward with that.”

Kilhart said the parking structure was recently examined by Bayside Engineering, the company that did the engineering for the reconstruction of the Exchange Street Bridge.

“The did an evaluation of that structure,” he said, “and the gave two scenarios to us and we, of course, forwarded it to the town manager (Shaun Suhoski). He then discussed with the Selectboard.

“The cost to remove it is just over $100,000. The cost to rebuild it as is — basically, tear it down and rebuild it because it’s not structurally sound — that’s why we closed down the underside as well. Basically, that price is slightly over $2 million.

“That’s not a decision the DPW makes,” he concluded, “It’s not even a decision Shaun probably makes. That’s something the board ultimately will decide upon. When they’ll do that, I’m not sure.”

Greg Vine can be reached at gvineadn@gmail.com

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