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Corporation Yard

Carlos Uribe, Public Works maintenance manager, gives members of the SHAPE Committee a tour of the Corporation Yard in November.

The city should step up its building maintenance, hire a facilities manager, make better use of its office space, and give city workers a less depressing place to do their jobs, said members of a committee charged with analyzing St. Helena’s public facilities.

The St. Helena Assets and Planning Engagement (SHAPE) Committee has just begun meeting, and members stressed that they’re still in the information-gathering phase. But last Wednesday evening, members got their first chance to share their impressions following their tour of the city’s facilities on Nov. 16.

Problems like leaky roofs, roaches and dirty carpets need immediate attention, committee members said. Then the city should hire someone to be solely responsible for building maintenance, they said.

“There are clearly significant maintenance issues across the board due to years of neglect,” said Tim Nieman.

Members highlighted poor working conditions at City Hall and the corporation yard on Charter Oak Avenue, where much of the Public Works staff is based. The corp yard, where a chronically leaky roof had soaked floors and an office the night before the committee’s tour, was called “pitiful” and “just a disaster.”

“I was embarrassed and I was a little bit ashamed at having our city workers work under these conditions,” Oliver Caldwell said. “They’re having to walk around buckets with water dripping into them, having to trip over carpets with uneven flooring … some of the buildings have mold. Enough – you can’t expect people to work under these conditions and expect optimum output.”

Susanne Salvestrin said she “can’t imagine” having to work at the City Hall/police station. “It’s awful,” she said.

Members also talked about how to alleviate overcrowding at City Hall by making better use of underused space at the Teen Center, a soon-to-be-vacated office building next to it on Railroad Avenue, and the Head Start building at Crane Park. A few committee members suggested moving a city department into the office building, which is in much better shape than City Hall.

The committee also has to figure out where the Carnegie Building fits into the puzzle given its faulty elevator, idiosyncratic floor plan, and a basement that’s been prone to flooding.

Pat Dell said the Signorelli Barn, a charming and historic structure that’s been battered by errant cars, “is just crying for theater,” community functions and private events like weddings.

The committee is tentatively scheduled to report to the City Council next April, and members said they’re eager to find solutions.

“This town can’t be living with these buildings,” Salvestrin said. “We have to do something now – not five years from now.”

Committee members encouraged the public to see the buildings for themselves during guided tours at 1 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 7; 9 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 9; and 9 a.m. Tuesday, Dec. 12.

Tours are limited to six people, so RSVP to to reserve a space. The first and second tours are fully booked, but four spaces are still available for the Dec. 12 tour.


St. Helena Reporter

Jesse has been a reporter for the St. Helena Star since 2006.