Vt firm outlines options for flooded state offices

By Wilson Ring

Associated Press

Published: Friday, March 9 2012 5:56 p.m. MST

Waterbury Town Manager Bill Shepeluk looks over proposed options for the largely abandoned state office complex in Waterbury, which was inundated by flooding from Tropical Storm Irene, during a meeting Friday, March 9, 2012 in Montpelier, Vt. About 1,500 state workers were displaced from the complex after the Winooski River swept through it in the Aug. 28 storm.

Toby Talbot, Associated Press

MONTPELIER, Vt. — A decision to renovate or replace a state office complex damaged by flooding from tropical Storm Irene will have to be made soon, but it will take time for officials to determine how much their chosen solution will cost the state.

The most likely option to emerge from a meeting Friday between state officials and architects involved rehabilitating some of the existing Waterbury buildings that were flooded in August, demolishing others and building a new, above flood-level office building that would be attached to the existing buildings that would be saved.

"The state of course is very interested in how to make this ... as environmentally and socially sustainable as possible and make this a fabulous place for people to work and a fabulous place for the state to showcase whatever you do," said Jean Carroon, of the Boston architectural firm Goody Clancy that was hired to do a historical analysis of the project. "This could be a real case study for the rest of the country."

Other options include renovating more of the existing buildings or building a brand-new state office complex in Montpelier or elsewhere.

As presented, the costs of the projects would range from a low of $108 million to build a new complex on an unidentified site to $142 million to rehabilitate and reuse much of the existing Waterbury buildings.

The actual cost to the state is unknown because Vermont is due to receive an insurance payment for its damaged Waterbury properties. The Federal Emergency Management Agency is also expected to help pay the costs, but the amount won't be known until the option is chosen and the payments negotiated, officials said.

Whichever option is chosen, the earliest new offices could be ready for use would be the middle of 2015.

On Aug. 28, flooding from Tropical Storm Irene overflowed the banks of the Winooski River in Waterbury, inundating much of the state office complex, which was built in the late 19th century as the Vermont State Hospital for the Insane. All but a building housing the Department of Public Safety was made unusable by the flooding, and about 1,200 state workers were displaced. Many of those workers are now spread across the state in temporary offices.

Waterbury's economy was hit hard by the loss of the jobs and local officials have been pushing to get Gov. Peter Shumlin's administration to agree to return the jobs to the community.

Waterbury Town Manager William Shepeluk said the reuse option appeared to be the most likely, but he remained concerned about how the community could survive for three years until construction is finished.

"That's my biggest concern right now. It's been our concern from the beginning," Shepeluk said. "How do we survive as a community how do we continue to make it, not even thrive, but to survive?"

"We have to pick an option and move forward," Lt. Gov. Phil Scott said after the presentation by officials with the Burlington architecture firm Freeman French, Freeman which developed the proposals at the request of the state.

"It's the level of participation, is it $10 million is it $50 million. I think that does have an effect on what we're going to do. We have to live within our means somewhat, we can't borrow an unlimited amount of money when it comes to the reconstruction," Scott said.

The four options outlined Friday were:

— Reuse and renovate many of the existing buildings, sell 50,000 square feet of office space, and demolish another 93,000-square feet of buildings too badly damaged to fix. Cost estimate: $142 million.

— Renovate 117,000 square feet of existing, historically significant office buildings above the flood level and build a new 135,000-square foot building above the flood level. Demolish other buildings, with 310,000 square feet of office space. Cost estimate: $134 million.

— Build a new 277,760 square foot office building in Montpelier on the site that currently houses the Department of Labor. Cost estimate: $118 million

—Build a new 200,000-square foot office complex on an unidentified location. Cost estimate: $108 million.

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