On former military property near the airport, North Charleston is starting construction on a $42 million public works facility that could improve the efficiency of garbage collection and maintenance programs.

The multi-building campus on 38 acres will replace the city’s 6-acre, 1970s-era public works facility that officials say has been inadequate for years.

The current facility is off Spruill Avenue just above Noisette Creek. It will be vacated and could later play a key role in a city plan to stop freight trains from traveling through the Olde Village neighborhood and across the East Montague strip.

The city has fought for years for an alternative to sending freight traffic through the Olde Village on tracks that run just east of Spruill Avenue, and cross East Montague Avenue next to North Charleston High School.

“Part of the agreement in the railroad settlement was that the trains would go through the public works facility over to Virginia Avenue,” said Councilman Bob King, who represents that area.

Any changes in rail routes would come only after a surface transportation study, also related to the 2012 settlement between the city and the state, can be conducted — and it hasn’t started yet. The study will look at rail and vehicle traffic related to the new port that’s under construction at the south end of the former Navy base.

While there’s no firm date on getting the study rolling, the city hopes to move the public works operations by the end of 2014, Mayor Keith Summey said.

“We’ve been wanting to relocate for seven years,” he said. “It’s right on the Interstate, so it really works well for us.”

The site was given to the city by the Air Force and the Navy. It is near the Remount Road interchange with Interstate 26 and will put the growing city’s public works fleet in a more central location.

Much of North Charleston’s recent growth has come at the north end of the city, which pushes well into Dorchester County.

“We’re excited about it,” said Jim Hutto, the city’s director of public works. “We’ll certainly be able to spread out a little more.”

The public works operations include servicing the city’s police cars and other vehicles, as well as handling garbage and trash collection, stormwater drainage, facility maintenance, traffic signs and signals, and engineering.

“We need that (new) facility,” said King. “We’ve got millions of dollars worth of equipment out there (at the current site) and they aren’t covered or anything.”

In addition to more space and sheltered parking for equipment, the new site will be a central fueling area for the city fleet, and Hutto said it’s being built with emergency operations in mind.

If there were a natural disaster, such as a hurricane, the city would have enough fuel on hand for weeks of operations, as well as a back-up emergency operations center, he said.

And the much larger site will allow for some new initiatives.

“We’ll even have a little greenhouse for seasonal plants,” said Hutto. “Right now we buy them, but we think we can probably grow a few.”

Reach David Slade at 937-5552 or Twitter @DSladeNews.