City employees flee the ‘swamp,' setup at Greene
Sandy Gemma was back in elementary school class on Tuesday. It wasn’t her choosing, but it certainly beat the alternative, which in the words of her co-workers was not only “stinky” but also “squishy.”
Gemma, who works with car valuations in the department of assessors, was dealing with the “new” squishy part of her job. She was going through soggy notes, patting them dry with paper towels. On some the ink was barely legible.
Around her co-workers spread records on long tables that will serve as temporary desks. This was the first day of the assessor’s temporary office in the former Greene School on Draper Avenue. Outside crews were offloading more rental tables and chairs for the offices of planning, building, personnel, community development, City Council liaison and MIS that all were affected by a burst pipe in the City Hall Annex due to the frigid weekend weather.
The epicenter of the disaster is thought to be the second floor office of Community Development Director William Facente. On Monday morning Facente’s office was a swamp. Water seeped from his computer; the carpet was a sponge. Water was dripping from the ceiling lights in the adjoining planning office. On the office below – the Tax Assessor’s – sodden ceiling tiles had fallen and the carpet had become a gigantic mushy mess.
In her 33 years with the city, Gemma had never experienced anything like it. But then, neither had any of her co-workers.
City Planner William DePasquale was mastermind of the logistics of uprooting offices and transplanting them to a former elementary school that, while warm and spacious, wasn’t designed for offices. The plan was to use laptop computers from the city’s Emergency Operations Center. So much more needed to be addressed, including phones, copiers and, most importantly, access to records, whether they be hard (dry) copies or data in a computer server.
By Wednesday a lot of the move was completed. DePasquale commended workers for their initiative in transporting records from the Annex, where crews had ripped out wet wallboards and installed blowers. The stink was gone.
Fortunately, management information systems (MIS) that is also located in the Annex was not affected by the ruptured pipe. That equipment and its data were spared and continued operating, although most of the personnel were also relocated to the Greene School.
But the public accustomed to finding municipal offices, for the most part, in Apponaug may now need to travel to the east end of the city. The administration was quick to get out the word using its Red Alert robo call system to notify upwards of 40,000 residents and businesses. A recorded call of Mayor Scott Avedisian went out Monday afternoon. It was followed that night with calls starting at 10 p.m. that produced a rash of complaints from residents who said it was too late and not an emergency. Chief of Staff Ray Studley said the call had been planned for 10 Tuesday morning, but in programming the system it had been set for 10 p.m. Regardless, it worked.
Eric Dansicker connected with Joe Kennedy in the assessors.
“Honestly, I didn’t expect it to be set up,” he said of the office.
It wasn’t, but that didn’t stop Kennedy from removing the name of Dansicker’s late wife from land records. He was pleased how quickly he was accommodated.
DePasquale was hopeful of having the offices at Greene, which is next to school administrative offices at the former Gorton Junior High School, fully operational by yesterday. He said the intent is to create a “one stop shop” where people can connect with the services they need. That is expected to be pretty much completed once Cox Communications makes the phone switchover.
Not moving “back to school” but also forced to relocate, the tax collectors have moved to the basement conference room in City Hall. As Avedisian explained, with quarterly payments due Jan. 16 and taxpayers accustomed to the offices near City Hall, it would be best to stay in Apponaug.
A line of taxpayers was outside the office Wednesday morning.
“It’s business as usual,” Tax Collector Kyla Jones said, looking up from a laptop linked to a network of wires running between three tables. “Except it’s tight quarters,” she added. Her co-workers called it “cozy.”
The mayor found a silver lining in the episode that had employees wondering how they could do their jobs.
“The cooperation that we have received from superintendent Phil Thornton and school committee chairwoman Bethany Furtado has been fantastic,” Avedisian said. He said the school department made arrangements to use phones, the Internet and access cards.
“We are very pleased with the way that city departments have banded together and allowed us to be as far along as we are,” he said.
In a memo to city employees and the council, Avedisian thanked everyone yesterday who helped make the transition.
“Our main goal is the safety and well-being of our employees. Moving everyone out of the annex and into Greene was paramount in avoiding any issues with air quality and water damage. As I’m sure you are all well aware, this arrangement is a temporary one. However, I ask that as we work through this, we do so together and with understanding, that everyone’s safety is our top priority,” he said.
At this time there is no projection when the cleanup and restoration of the Annex will be completed.