METHUEN — City councilors and a local labor union are at odds over who is responsible for an estimated $284,000 in repairs needed at the Rail Trail Depot. There's the weathered roof, as well as a long, dilapidated awning held up by weak columns that cars are known to smash into.
At a recent meeting, councilors weighed the option to spend leftover grant money from the state's Gateway City Parks Program, which made the Rail Trail possible. The council shot down the idea with a 4-4 vote, with one councilor not there to participate.
Councilors Eunice Zeigler, Jessica Finocchiaro, Ryan Hamilton and George Kazanjian voted in support of spending the money. James McCarty, Steve Saba, Jennifer Kannan and Lynn Vidler voted against it. Joyce Campagnone was not in attendance.
The need for safety and aesthetic improvements still exists at the depot, but with no resolution in sight and growing frustrations from the union.
Local 175 Laborers' International of North America — largely made up of construction and energy industry workers — bought the historic brick building at 55 Union St. in 2003. It's used as the union's office space and local headquarters, according to business manager Michael Gagliardi.
It doubles as the landmark start of the Rail Trail.
The 2.4-mile-long recreational trail was laid in front of the union's building in recent years, after the city secured $1.95M in state funding through the Gateway City Parks Program, an effort to create outdoor recreational spaces in underserved urban areas.
There is about $900,000 left, according to city records.
Bill Buckey, the city's director of economic and community development, pitched the idea to use some of that leftover money for depot improvements. The state gave Buckley the go-ahead before he approached councilors, he said.
"That's a public space, under those overhangs," he said. "We've had talks about having farmer's market types of events. It's impossible for us to do that without some work on the private property."
Holding blueprints of the property and walking under the painted wood awning in front of the union building, Gagliardi pointed to property lines with the neighboring VFW and the Rail Trail, which the city acquired for 99 years through an agreement with the MBTA.
"The labor union can't federally spend money on property we don't own," Gagliardi said. "This is the city's responsibility to fix. They sent an inspector out here who said it's not structurally sufficient. They need to fix it or take it down."
Some councilors question the boundaries, and therefore, responsibility for maintenance.
"In my mind, this has nothing to do with the laborers' union. This has to do with spending taxpayer money. They bought that building, they own the building, they should maintain the overhang," Saba said.
He would rather see the leftover state money used for the track at Nicholson Stadium, or other city parks that need improving.
"If that building is not owned by the city, then why are we using state taxpayer money to renovate it?" Saba said.
McCarty agreed, calling the breakdown of the money presented to councilors as "sketchy."
"The gist of the work is a roof and paint job?" he said. "There's $71,000 listed for roofing and $30,000 for painting. That's $101,000. How do we get from there to $284,186?"
Buckley said there's 20,000 feet of roofing and more than 20 special-order posts.
"Those have been hit several times," he said. "They're structurally deficient. There are temporary posts in there now."
He added, "The current building owner does not have responsibility for overhangs."
Further discussion is not scheduled for the council's abbreviated summer schedule. It is not clear when a resolution would be broached again.