2018-07-20 / Front Page

Town considers outsourcing custodial work for buildings

Waterhouse Center maintenance a topic of discussion again
By Duke Harrington Staff Writer

KENNEBUNK — Selectmen have received an oft-requested report on operating costs for the Waterhouse Center on Main Street.

According to Town Manager Mike Pardue, talks will soon get underway with trustees of the Waterhouse Youth Endowment Fund, in hopes of securing a longterm capital investment strategy for the public facility. Meanwhile, he is mulling a plan to outsource custodial work at public buildings townwide.

Almost from the moment it opened in 2014, the Waterhouse Center has been lauded as a crown jewel of Kennebunk. Selectboard chairman Dick Morin has bowed to no one in bestowing like accolades, but he and fellow selectman Ed Karytko have repeatedly questioned the true cost to run the site.

While both have stopped short of saying taxpayers got sold a bill of goods on the project, both have also suggested they and others were misled in the early stages, assured the site would bring in enough revenue to pay for itself.

At a September 2013 meeting, then town manager Barry Tibbetts told selectmen interest on a $1.5 endowment created by the open-air pavilion’s benefactor and namesake, Geraldine Waterhouse, and her granddaughter, Paige Herr, would generate $60,000 to $75,000 in annual funding for the facility.

“I think the potential is there to do this really very inexpensively,” he said at the time. “We want to make the building self-sustaining.”

Money also came in from advertising and the sale of engraved brick pavers surrounding the site, although much of the latter was funneled into repaying a construction loan from the downtown TIF district that helped fund site construction.

In late 2016, after town crews were used to lay a shock-absorbing material over the complex’ concrete floor — at an estimated cost of $2,500 — Karytko began to ask questions.

“I remember very clearly you saying it wasn’t going to cost the taxpayers one dime, and it’s now costing the taxpayers a lot of money,” he said at the time, claiming the true cost was not just the money spent, but the department man hours of the public works crews diverted from other projects.

Questions about Waterhouse costs were shifted to the back burner in the subsequent shuffle from Tibbets to Pardue. Then, last fall, the call to put a real number on the cost of site maintenance was renewed.

At the selectboard’s July 10 meeting, Public Ser- vices Operations Manager Bryan Laverriere — who is overseeing management of the department following the June 15 resignation of Eric Labelle — delivered his report.

From November to March, he said, public works employees logged 319 man hours taking care of the Waterhouse Center, at a cost to the town of $6,146.

The breakdown included 110 hours at $2,193 in November, which covered setting up the ice rink.

“It’s quite a process to get the ice thick enough for the Zamboni to get on,” he said.

After that, much of the time spent was on snow removal — although volunteers snow blow the area around the rink — and facilities maintenance, including regular cleaning of the bathrooms.

December consumed 41 man hours at $702; January saw 51.5 hours at a cost of $939; and February came in at 72 hours, costing $1,467. Finally, things wrapped in March with rink shut down, at 44.5 hours for $816.

Laverriere said the costs did not include materials, even when with site repairs. At one point, someone sat on a bathroom sink, pulling it off the wall, but public works crews made the fix using materials on hand in the town highway garage, at “very, very min- imal” cost, Laverriere said.

Under questioning from selectmen, Pardue acknowledged that costs cited included only base wages of workers tasked with Waterhouse jobs. Counting the cost of employee benefits, he said, would have inflated Laverriere’s number by “about 40 percent.”

Laverriere also said costs could climb dramatically in the future, if the cadre of volunteers who now staff the site and run the Zamboni, among other things, were to lose collective interest.

“This place really does run on the volunteers,” he said. “We have some really good volunteers, but I don’t know how long they are going to be there.”

When Selectman William Ward asked about a replacement plan for the used chillers bought to maintain the ice, Pardue made his first revelation.

Within “the next 30 to 60 days,” Pardue said, he and Finance Director Joel Downs intend to meet with Herr and her husband Chris, who, in the wake of Waterhouse’s February 2016 death, oversee the Waterhouse Youth Endowment Fund foundation.

“We’ll be laying out a capital improvement plan that we envision over the next couple of years, using foundation dollars,” Pardue said, noting that that new chillers and an eventual Zamboni replacement should come primarily from that funding source.

Meanwhile, Pardue said the foundation will reimburse the the town for the $6,146 it spent maintaining the center this past winter. The foundation currently only covers winter work. The six hours per week spent on upkeep the rest of the year is a town responsibility, although that, too, will be on the table for upcoming negotiations with the Herrs, Pardue said.

That led to the manager’s second revelation, as he raised the possibility of outsourcing custodial work at all public buildings in town.

“We recognize that we are having some tremendous challenges with our custodial support,” he said. “Right now, unfortunately, we are seeing some of our rec department employees cleaning the restrooms in the teen center. They are certainly not trained to do that, nor is it part of their job expectation. They have done that on their own initiative

“So, we are looking at ways we can address the cleaning service needs of this building (town hall) as well as other buildings, to include the Waterhouse Center,” Pardue said.

The advantage of outsourcing the cleaning work, rather than beefing up town staffing to get it down, is that outside contractors don’t have to be given health insurance, or other costly benefits of other town employees, Pardue said.

In the end, no immediate changes resulted from Laverriere’s report.

Karytko and Morin indicated it reinforced their previous positions.

“My focus is on how many things can we do with the people we have,” Karytko said. “Either we have to get more people, or we have to cut back on some of the things that we do.

“If people walk into a bathroom at the Waterhouse Center, it should be clean, but if we are out fixing a sea wall, and don’t have the people, we can’t be doing bathrooms,” he said.

Morin agreed, suggesting debate will reign for as long as road crews are cross-trained to clean toilets.

“I think the public just needs to understand, we have 319 hours that we’re pulling people out of the other things that we do — plowing roads and sidewalks, or whatever it may be,” he said. “This (Waterhouse Center maintenance) comes last, but it still takes time, and still pulls somebody off of what might be a higher priority in somebody else’s mind.”

Staff Writer Duke Harrington can be reached at news@kennebunkpost.com.

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